As a result, the support and supply of prostitution was in the hands of shady characters and outright criminals until 2000. Government did not apply itself to the business. Taxes were not levied, because of concerns that this might constitute pimping by the government; still, many whores still paid taxes filed under euphemistic names for their work. Not just because of idealism, but because the government occasionally used "tax evasion" as a pretext for prosecution.
Involvement of criminals in the business varied. There were eras in which pimps were a plague, and eras in which there was hardly any pimping to speak of. This seems to have varied by locale as well. Data is usually biased and sketchy, and outside the five largest cities of the Netherlands there is hardly any data at all, except anecdotes by fellow whores. There is no clear-cut picture, but we can tell that it varied.
This is the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, we have a different way of dealing with laws that are not worth enforcing. It is called "gedoogbeleid," which means "policy of tolerance." It means that something is illegal, but we have policy that defines that this law will not be enforced unless certain thresholds are crossed. This policy is well known from its application to cannabis, the sale and possession of which is illegal, but where the cannabis prohibition will not be enforced if the quantities one is caught with remain small.
Our policy of tolerance often misleads foreigners into thinking that certain issues have been legalized or decriminalized, whilst the opposite is true. It is a way to avoid the harsh realities of the excesses that arise when prohibition is complete, whilst still denying basic rights and protection to those who supply the "tolerated" goods or services. Selective enforcement is applied.
As a result of tolerance policy, the government neither tried to stamp out the prostitution business, nor did it attempt to address excesses that would not have been tolerated in "normal" sectors of industry, such as extortion, violence, ridiculous fine systems imposed on workers by operators, cartels, work hazards, breaches of contract, and basic human rights violations. Appeals to police or other official institutions were answered with advice to "get out of that awful world."
This was quite tolerable as long as cartels were a rarity, because we could move to a better operator if the one we had was unfair. We could even take action personally. We were outlaws anyway, so why not act like it. For some girls, always a minority though, a good way to deal with someone bothering you was to take a pimp. If the pimp started to be a problem himself, you got a better pimp. This system of keeping people honest did work for a good while, but it was not to last.
At the end of the 90's, gangs started to rise, and the unpoliced world of prostitution was an easy prey. Quickly several gangs dominated the window brothel scene, especially in the larger cities. The vilest gang was one run by Sjaban Baran and his family. They were so violent that no other pimp dared to oppose him. The system had broken down. They were too violent, and we girls tried to get police involved.
This was no labor matter anymore. This had become pointless violence, robbery, violent extortion, hostage taking, torturing and multiple attempted murders. They weren't even allowing girls to quit. In 1998 several girls went to the police and made statements, trying to get them to prosecute. Apart from informing the gang members of who had informed on them, the police did nothing.
Apart from the girls, there were others who tried in vain to get Dutch police to intervene, like brothel keepers and competing pimps. They were ignored. The Kriminalpolizei Mannheim (German criminal police) had experience with the gang, and had received information about their activities in the Netherlands. They supplied this information to their Dutch colleagues. Insiders described the information received "panklaar," meaning "oven-ready." But as usual, Dutch police did nothing.
The Baran gang had been ruling the roost since 1998. When two years later the brothel prohibition was lifted, and government made much ado about prostitution therefore having been normalized, new attempts were made to get the police to intervene. Again, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing at all was done until 2006, when Sjaban was so convinced of being untouchable, that he displayed his crimes publicly, without trying to hide, making it into mainstream press, and embarassing the municipality. Then finally, action was taken by police.
It took until 2008 until he was finally convicted, but the case went to appeal. During the preparation for this appeal, Sjaban was given unescorted leave. The department of Justice was shocked that the convicted criminal, now without ties in the Netherlands, with a Turkish passport and most of his assets in Turkey, a country that does not extradite subjects, didn't report back from leave. Police proved unable to track him down, but a newspaper found him running a night club in a Turkish touristic town.
Remarkably, in 2012, a full 14 years after the first police reports, with remnants of the Baran gang having re-started operations on a much lower level of intensity, and Sjaban already 3 years in Turkey, the final appeal ended and Sjaban was convicted in absentia to a prison term of 7 years and 9 months, with a fine of 150,000 Euros. This was cause for the spokesman of the prosecutors office to boast on TV that they had instilled us whores with trust that justice will be done!
You might wonder why I spend so much attention on one case, but this was the case that caused the most uproar, and is the only story most people have heard about crime in prostitution. It has become the archetype of not just crime in prostitution, but of prostitution itself. Unfortunately Dutch press does not portray the affair as I do, but rather paints a picture of a determined police force thwarted by uncooperative whores.
A peeve of mine, which I have acquired recently as I learned more about the structures and nature of pimping, is that the criminal prosecution focused nearly entirely on the wrong girls. The violent extortions and hostage taking was almost completely ignored in favor of the perverse relationships between pimps and their whores. These relationships are explored in detail elsewhere in the Dutch part of my blog, but it's too complex to explain here.
Of course, the police contributed nothing to combating the gangs. That was very clear after attempts to involve them. Several people had turned to the motorcycle club Hells Angels for help. They had sufficient numbers and sufficient reputation for violence that the pimp gangs would back off. It was a larger scale version of trading in one pimp for another. It didn't end the gang problem, but caused a stalemate.
When the Iron Curtain fell at the beginning of the 90's, a trickle of Eastern European sex workers came in. They were mostly an exotic curiosity, but quickly became a constant presence. When the Euro became the national currency in 2002, the trickle turned into a torrent, and very quickly they came to dominate the prostitution business as a whole. I will not go into the changes to the business their work ethic and eagerness caused, but one other aspect changed the situation.
The women coming from Eastern Europe had to have help to get to work here. The government had intentionally made the procedure to be allowed to work here so complex that it was almost impossible to get going without assistance, and they needed to have accomodation, language help, and a way to funnel money to their home countries. Eastern European grey economy people were ready to assist them with that. And in passing, ended the gang problem.
Eastern European whores had worked in countries where harsh criminalization of prostitution meant that the amount of underworld involvement was very high. Many of the helping hands had contacts with contacts in the Eastern European underworld, and could call up a rusty van full of heavily armed tough guys for competitive prices. The gangs quickly learned to back off from any girl who might have such friends. That excluded them from almost the entire scene.
I don't mean to say that they were the only factor in breaking the gangs' power. The women were more vocal, the prices of services had dropped making supporting the criminals' lifestyles economically unfeasible, operators of establishments no longer had to lay low and were cooperating with the authorities, and the level of grubbiness people accepted in prostitution had diminished. The wind had changed in more ways than just Eastern European death squads. But the gangs left the protected girls alone first.
Still, compared to now it was a much better time to work. With the disappearance of tolerance policy with respect to prostitution, the political situation has worsened. Not because legalization in itself makes anything worse, but because the legalization was only a tool to allow more repressive measures to be taken against prostitution. That needs to be explained, and that is what the next article is about.
Series on the Dutch Model:
War on sex work