In the previous English articles on my blog, I have detailed the history of Dutch prostitution, and the political developments around "the Dutch model" of legalization. All these are important in order to understand the background of the current situation, the real reasons behind the so-called legalization, and the way things are escalating, but it doesn't explain what the current state of affairs is for the average prostitute.
Dutch prostitution is a diverse and healthy sector, in which indoor work dominates strongly. Street prostitution exists, but is a very small part of the sector, and is often viewed as the least healthy. To be honest I don't know much about it, as it is a pretty separate branch in which I have no acquaintances. There are more lewd horror stories about street prostitution than there are street prostitutes.
Coercion is vanishingly rare. Apart from some widely publicized excesses, this has always been the case. The few actual investigations that have been done into prostitution show that levels of violence and coercion whithin prostitution are approximately equal to those in the general population. This is largely ignored in favor of alarmist reports based on hype and gut feeling.
There is a regulated and licensed circuit, and separately from that a large and healthy unlicensed, often called "illegal," circuit. The moniker "illegal" is a misnomer, because this term is used to collect both illicit brothels and prostitutes that perform in ways that are not (yet) required to be licensed. This is no accident, since the association between not being under government control and crime is one with which the government has long been indoctrinating the populace.
In the licensed circuit, prostitutes are completely dependent on operators who provide locations and, most importantly, have a license. Due to the highly restrictive licensing policies of the municipalities, licensed operations are scarce and can use their oligopoly position to extract large sums of money and impose strict working rules. Opposing them means losing your workplace, and once you've been expelled by one, the others treat you as contaminated goods.
The illegal circuit, by contrast, contains many small operations who have to fight for the good girls, and who compete by pricing and value for money. Everyone is equally vulnerable to being informed on, so there is much more mutual respect and agreement. Not only the operators are very different in the illegal circuit, but also the clientele is different, and usually more pleasant.
Pimps are uncommon, but some girls will always want a pimp. If they can't find one, they'll make one. It is easier to work without a pimp than with one, by no means are pimps a menace to the industry since the gangs lost their foothold. As things are, finding a pimp is harder than avoiding them, and most girls who want a pimp have to resort to creating their own.
Dutch clients are generally well-behaved and pleasant. Even the tourists are no big issue, because they know they're coming into an established business. Dutch prostitution culture, like in most places, is one of businesslike transactions where the professional sets the boundaries. This means a pleasant and safe experience for both sides of the transaction. Protection against clients by guards is practically superfluous.
Prices in the Netherlands are relatively low. This is because legality means clients don't expect to pay danger money, and because the Dutch prostitution sector has been swamped by girls from Eastern European countries with low wage standards. Eastern European women completely dominate most branches of Dutch prostitution as a result. Despite the low margins, a hard worker can still make the job pay.
These factors make the Netherlands an unlucrative but pleasant place to work. There are, however, problems, all of them stemming from government.
It is unknown how many prostitutes work in the Netherlands, since they have strong incentive to stay out of view of the government. Even if there were openness from the prostitutes, there is still the issue that actual data is not welcome. Official reports take care only to include data from prohibitionist-controlled sources that don't actually have any basis in reality. Real attempts at assessment by social scientists are practically ignored.
There are two sources of information popular in press and parliament about the number of coerced prostitutes. The first, and most common, is a number published in a report by police. The report claims that 50-90% of prostitutes are coerced. On closer inspection, this turns out to be a collection of guesses by vice policemen of total number of prostitutes where some police matter might be involved. Most of the policemen interviewed declined to guess, because they thought it was irresponsible to do so. It has no further substance.
Second, there is the NGO Comensha, which keeps track of all signals of trafficking. Any signal of trafficking picked up by police, border guards, municipalities, or reported by panicky parents is unquestioningly registered as one victim. They pay lip service to the fact that this concerns possible victims, but after this remark tucked into the introduction of their report, the treatment of the accumulated number is as if every case were confirmed.
The bar is set low to be called a victim. If you have a tattoo, or you have new friends, or you are from an Eastern European country, or you have nice clothes, or you seem hesitant to talk to the cop, or you didn't buy your own ticket, or you have new friends, or the cop gets a hunch about you, you're registered as a victim. And there are many more bizarre and spurious "signs of trafficking." Here is an illustrative quote from a recent report by the National Rapporteur Human Trafficking:
The "sluice team" of the Royal Marechaussee (paramilitary police) has, in line with its checks on so-called risk flights from Bulgaria, spoken to a Bulgarian woman. Multiple times this woman has been checked when arriving in the Netherlands and indicates that she finds this objectionable. She claims she ("still") has nothing to do with prostitution. This time she claims to have come to the Netherlands to visit a number of friends for three days. From further observation by the reporting members of the Royal Marechaussee attempting to spot any person picking her up, it emerged that the woman had gone to the Netherlands Railway (NS) informations desk, then tried to contact someone via public telephone, and again contacted someone by mobile telephone. Following this she has left the airport by train. The Royal Marechaussee has submitted a notification about the woman to Comensha for registration.This is presented uncritically, as if it's a laudable effort to combat trafficking! I have taken no relevant context away, I have not twisted any meaning. This is considered right by the Rapporteur. This is the kind of background the Dutch public doesn't dig up, they only read the ever increasing number of trafficking cases in the news and think that there's an epidemic of victimhood, and something ought to be done.
Quite apart from what constitutes a "signal of trafficking," it is important to know what the law considers trafficking. The Dutch trafficking law is one of the most convoluted and ill-defined laws on the books. This stems from the fact that it is mostly dictated by anti-trafficking treaties written by other countries' diplomats for other juridical situations than exist in the Netherlands.
The vagueness and equivocation in the text of the law creates great opportunities for activist judges and prosecutors. On superficial reading, it seems relatively benign, if somewhat misguided. In its application, it is more a blunt instrument. The fuzzy phrases have been interpreted in the widest possible sense by the ministry, and as a result many more people are threatened by this law than the public knows.
It would take too much time and column space to point out every flaw in the trafficking law and its application, so I will only point out some of the main issues.
The basis of trafficking, according to the law, is an element of coercion and an element of exploitation. Neither of these is well defined. An added complication is that "exploitation in prostitution shall always be considered exploitation," ast the law phrases it, which is interpreted by the judiciary as meaning that every case where anyone profits from prostitution is a case of exploitation. Judges reluctant to go along with this are disparaged, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Second is the element of coercion. While everyone agrees that a thug imprisoning and drugging a girl for rape is obvious coercion, the law extends much further. Any situation of "dependency" is sufficient to satisfy the requirement for coercion. Being in love with a man who profits from the proceeds of your sex work is a factual dependency sufficient to prove dependency and therefore coercion.
The ministry states that coercion and exploitation should be measured by comparison with "the situation an emancipated prostitute in the Netherlands is supposed to have." Unfortunately, this is judged by people who don't have the least notion of, or interest in, any information about or from prostitutes, emancipated or not. They call it a fiction, and frankly that is the best word for it.
But the same ministry who wants emancipated prostitutes to be the benchmark for judging coercion also puts forward explicit examples of coercion, for instance the sex worker coming from an economically weak background, or being informed of the fact that quitting their sex job will cause them to have less income. One specific ukase by the ministry defines "to demonstrate to a prospective prostitute the income that can be earned in prostitution" as coercion.
Excluded from any requirement of coercion, weak as it may be, is the clause about involvement with any prostitute crossing any state border. As long as you somehow profit, you are trafficking her. This is an easy score for prosecutors, and is used a lot. Despite its obvious conflict with the purported purpose of the law, it is vehemently defended by the National Rapporteur as an important tool to combat trafficking.
The maximum penalties for trafficking are remarkably high. If you feel the irresistible urge to traffic a woman, it is better to maim her so badly that she will be unable to become a prostitute. Even if she dies due to this violence, your maximum penalty is still lower than the maximum penalty if you had trafficked her. This paragraph is of course very black humor, but the facts are accurate.
Due to twists in interpretation, partially outside of the scope of trafficking laws, consensual sex work obtained from a sex worker under the age of 18 is penalized whether the buyer could conceivably know she was below 18 or not. Even if he has been deceived with the greatest skill, he is still guilty of debauchery with someone under age. Bear in mind that the age of consent in the Netherlands is 16. If he hadn't paid, he could have gotten as kinky as he wanted with her with no repercussions. This is meant to be expanded to cover any prostitute under 21, infantilizing even more women.
There are many more criticisms to be leveled at the trafficking law, but they are dwarfed by these issues. Suffice it to say that the construction of said law is antithetical to a society where prostitution is even marginally accepted. A law should be a clear standard of behavior, penalizing only what is unjust, and be clearly demarcated to avoid spill-over of penalties into situations where it does not right the wrongs it was designed to combat. This law does not meet that standard.
An effect of the excessively corrupted law, erroneously considered a side-effect, is affording very wide-ranging powers to police. The wide scope of behaviors criminalized, combined with the low thresholds to consider any situation a trafficking situation, combined with the broadened powers due to the high penalties, combined with a desire to score on this issue, makes it very easy for vice police to bully, coerce, cajole, or do whatever they want, since they sail very close to the political wind.
Contact with police is a very unpredictable thing. It seems to depend mostly on how the cop perceives you. If you're assertive and feisty, they view you as an immoral harlot and they're much more likely to try to ruin you. If you're submissive or naive, they tend to be more protective and you're let off much more easily. Pride goeth before destruction in these matters. I find it perverse that the strong willed are preferentially chosen as victims in their pantomime.
Problems with police can be divided into two groups: Daily bullying and organized persecution. The former mostly entails vice police coming on endless "inspections" where they intrude as much as they can into your work and personal life. If you work for a licensed operator, this is usually limited, because vice police want to be chummy with the licensee, but if you're in any way vulnerable to their tactics they become a pest.
It mostly involves "inspecting" your toys and condoms, going through your house, wanting to know the ins and outs of your sex life, preaching to you about the horrors of your line of work, exhorting you to make something of yourself, and relishing in the fact that you have no power to get rid of them, whereas they have power over you. The sooner you see how this works the less painful it becomes.
Some girls take this to its logical conclusion and just give the cops what they want. It depends on the cop in question what this is. For some it's misery stories, for others it's the chance to pester a rebellious girl into submission, some want you to fall crying in their arms, sobbing about your awful life, and of course plenty are just looking for a free blow job once a week. If you know how to satisfy just one local vice cop, many problems simply disappear.
As can be gathered from the information about trafficking signals specified above, it is very hard not to be a candidate for an investigation. You want to avoid that, because investigations cause untold trouble. In dealing with police, there is simply no way to get out ahead, and little chance to get out unscathed. The best way of dealing with local vice cops is to never attract their attention. As long as you don't get noticed, you don't get inspected.
The work is fine. I can't repeat that enough. My job is great, and I wouldn't swap with anyone. As long as I can get things done without too much government interference, I can't think of a better way to spend my working days. It is a different story when organized persecution comes ramming down your door. That is treated in the next, and final, part of this series.
Series on the Dutch Model:
War on sex work