The opportunity to impose rules on prostitution was enthusiastically embraced, but the drafting process took several years. This was mainly due to differences of opinion between parties about which purposes the regulations should serve. The American imposition of new trafficking rules in 2004 upset the process, drawing it out longer. When the original version of this draft was published, the year 2008 had rolled around.
It was very clear from the contents of the draft that this proposal of law had been designed by a Christian minister. It entailed no rights for sex workers, only tools for municipal government to eradicate prostitution and a registration system to avoid whores escaping from government scrutiny. Clientele of unlicensed prostitutes would be penalized as well as sex workers operating without license.
Part of the plan was that sex workers would get an identity pass from municipal government at registration, which would have to be checked by each client before each transaction. This was met with much resistance from prostitution and human rights organizations, and the identity pass was removed from the draft. The remainder of the law was left criticized but relatively unscathed and was accepted by parliament.
The Senate proved a bigger obstacle, and, in contrast with the ministry and parliament, was susceptible to arguments from the people who were going to be subjected to the new law. They scrutinized the proposal, and found many unanswered questions about efficacy and necessity, as well as infringements on civil and human rights. There were multiple consultations with the responsible minister, who wasn't the one who drafted the proposal, on these issues.
Every consultation was farcical. The minister did not have any answers and made a complete clown of himself. He was stymied when confronted with obvious questions about whether the level of disruption his law would cause was justified in the absence of clear goals and purposes. It was only after a government reform, with associated tightening of party reins, that treatment of the proposal was allowed to continue, now without heavy criticism from coalition parties.
Despite this political maneuver, there was still no answer to any of the pressing questions that needed to be answered to declare the proposal juridically sound. In a surprise capitulation, the minister suddenly dropped two large sections of the law that had been the focus of most criticism. The parts concerning licensing were kept, but the central registration of all prostitutes in one register, and the duty of the client to make sure his whore was licensed were deleted.
As I write this article, the revised proposal of law is under scrutiny by parliament, but since they were not critical about the original, I don't expect them to be critical about the pared down version. More worryingly, the indefensible parts of the proposal he dropped on the state level are now promoted to municipalities, which are prompted to implement these regulations themselves on the municipal level.
The current proposal entails a compulsory licensing system for "commercial sex enterprises." It contains rules describing circumstances where it is compulsory to withhold or withdraw licenses, and tools to arbitrarily withhold or withdraw licenses. It contains penalization of prostitutes if they are not licensed, if they are licensed but not in the correct way, and we're even penalized if our operator doesn't obey the law, whether we know it or not.
One major justification of the law is that it is meant to bring uniformity to municipal regulations, thus obviating the flight of coerced prostitution to less regulated municipalities. This is instantly belied by the fact that there are explicit allowances for stricter additional regulations. There are no stipulations to guarantee a workable licensing situation for sex workers, only stipulated restrictions.
Despite the age of consent at 16, the age of majority at 18, and the age where paid labor is allowed at 12, a prostitute will be penalized if she works under 21 years of age. She is then treated as a minor. This is professed to be protection of vulnerable young girls. The method is to fine the woman. The minister, when questioned, stated that this fine was a "light penalty" to "emphasize the girls own responsibility." Bear in mind that the rationale behind the rule was that younger women would not be able to freely choose due to immaturity. It is odd to think that this does not preclude fining them.
Originally, the penalization of working under 21 was motivated as a tool to "extract women from prostitution, voluntarily or involuntarily." The "reasoning" behind this part of the proposal was that pimps alledgedly wait until a girl is not a minor anymore to push her into sex work. In support, a rousing publication by the Netherlands' largest rescue industry sect is quoted.
Apparently a belief existed that pimps ignore the draconian trafficking laws, but would be stumped should the girl get fined for working at "too young" an age. Apparently women can be considered competent at 18 in any line of work, except when it involves them husbanding their own sexuality. Apparently a throw-away lie on this prohibition making it easier to force purportedly coerced women out of their jobs is sufficient to apply laws that ignore the right to sexual self-determination.
When grilled on this issue by the Senate, the minister changed tack. The current justification of the infantilization of young prostitutes is "to protect the bodily integrity of young adults." This is presented as "an instrument to counteract prostitution under the age of 21." At least one step of failed logic has been removed from the official justification, but still a reason based in sanity and reality is missing.
In the Netherlands, you're allowed to fuck every guy on a rave when you're 16, you can join the army to get blown up in Afghanistan at 17, at 18 you're fully competent for marriage, breeding kids, drinking, gambling, to stand trial and to work yourself to an early grave - but not to decide that getting paid is reason enough to deliver sexual services. Then government will punish you.
The least objectionable part of the proposed law is to require prostitution businesses to submit a paper detailing how they plan to fight human trafficking. This has been done before on the municipal level, and was a nice earner for people who could write such papers for you. It didn't help one bit, of course, since it was and is meant to be an legalistic obstacle to get a license if you don't have someone helping you out. However, it is one of the less perfidious rules.
Not so with the rule that anywhere where "commercial prostitution" may be suspected to occur, municipal civil servants are allowed to enter without consent from the owner or occupant of the house or building. This is already standard practice for many licensed prostitutes, but with the new law anybody can get a sudden surprise raid by municipal non-police busybodies who say you're prostituting because nobody needs that many condoms.
There have been many soothing words from the minister that he only targets "bedrijfsmatige" (commercial, litt: as a business) prostitution. The wording in the definition in the proposal of law, however, is crafted to include everyone who performs sexual services for any kind of compensation. When quizzed on this, the minister said that the ministry doesn't mean to target independent home workers, but doesn't want to exclude them from the law because they don't want to hinder municipalities that do.
Inclusion of every single sex worker as a target for the law is a point pursued by the Association of Dutch Municipalities, the most powerful lobby group of the Netherlands, who have been sending pressing letters to the minister imploring him to give tools in this law that will encompass all sex workers and allow municipalities to completely forbid any kind of sex work in their territories. The minister has been very accomodating to them, but claims this is not a goal of the law. Of course, both demands are met in the proposal.
Since the 90's, a policy of slow extermination of prostitution areas has been pursued by many municipalities. There was a misunderstanding among sex workers that with legalization, this would come to an end. The legalization was, however, only a tool to expedite this policy. The pace was now no longer set by resistance from the law, but by financial concerns and the lingering public opinion that prostitution should have a place in Dutch society.
When combating prostitution, municipalities always claim shutting down businesses is necessary to combat human trafficking, even though it is usually quite obvious that the actual purpose is gentrification. The Hague is known to have commissioned a feasibility report on the option to shut down the Doubletstraat window area in a bid to upgrade the nearby Bierkade area, but was informed that "unfortunately" insufficient crime existed to make that workable.
Amsterdam has been using money from building societies to buy up window brothels, claiming that the "low economic value" of the brothels, coffee-shops (cannabis cafés), and peep shows should give way to high-end couture, art, and restaurants. When this costly and failing project is criticized, the municipality invariably retorts that this project is necessary to combat human trafficking.
Utrecht was very proud of its severely overregulated window brothels, touting them as the showcase of what could be achieved by strict government interference, until the nearby sewage treatment plant would be modernized and shrunk, raising development opportunities. Then suddenly, within months, every single operator lost his license due to trafficking accusations in a secret report.
The Utrecht municipality claims to want window prostitution to return, but whenever the requirements for a license are met by anyone, the municipality changes the requirements. They use discretionary powers, meant to disrupt money laundering by organized crime, to delay and disrupt any attempt to set up any prostitution business. Local people are approached by the municipality and told step-by-step how to file complaints that will delay licensing even further.
The municipalities are, unfortunately, less sensitive to embarassment. Where the national government backs off from items of policy that are obvious failures or iniquities, the municipalities don't care. Partly this is because the national government is much better scrutinized by press, and can count on opposition parties blowing the whistle on failed policy, whereas the municipalities are much less open and much less under the watchful eye of the press.
A nice example is the case of Patricia Perquin. In 2011, a national newspaper announced a series of articles written by a prostitute from the Amsterdam red light district. Usually hookers' opinions are kept out of official channels, so this drew quite some attention, both from us whores and the general public. We were happy that the voice of at least one prostitute would be heard as something more than soundbites in somebody else's show.
From the initial article on, we knew something wasn't right. She didn't write like a whore, and her experiences were more reminiscent of misery porn TV shows than of anything any of us had ever seen in the Amsterdam red light. As the series progressed, her portrayal of prostitution became more absurd, and she took venomous potshots at well-known Amsterdam prostitute advocates who had been in conflict with the municipality.
Six months later, in 2012, she came out with a book, which was even more absurd. It was promoted as a true story, but it read like a dimestore novel. The mass media promoted the booklet, its authenticity was confirmed by people within the rescue industry who claimed to know her, her credibility had been established by her vetting by the newspaper, and it became a bestseller, as well as the talk of the town.
It was remarkable how seriously she was treated. Many news outlets featured stories about this "brave woman" who told her "true story." Meanwhile, most actual whores were not that convinced that she ever had been a hooker, but we were all sure her story was a complete fabrication. It was jarring to see how this fraud was getting attention with a low freak show content when compared to real hookers who had made the news.
She was, by far, not the first prostitute to come forward with her story. There had been many who tried to show the world what their experience had been like. These other whores had never been remotely as successful, even with better reading books, and were ostracised by mass media instead of hailed as heroes. Their story was publicly made out to be "too romantic" and not horrific enough. Not so for the misery porn by Perquin.
Three months after publication of her first book, Patricia Perquin was hired to be the official advisor on prostitution policy by the municipality of Amsterdam. Not only were her inane ideas hailed as the way forward, she was used as the official voice of prostitutes, not just to justify policy, but also to silence opposition from actual whores and advocacy groups.
Several weeks before the news of this new position came out, prostitution advocacy foundation De Rode Draad (Red Thread) had published a poignant review of Patricias book and articles, reaching the conclusion that she was a fraud. The municipality of Amsterdam responded by blackmailing them, and when they didn't submit, bankrupting the foundation. Despite the foundations national fame and notoriety, and even official inclusion as a government partner in laws, this conflict was reason enough for the municipality to destroy them.
It took about a year before the inevitable happened, and Patricia Perquin was revealed to be a well-known hoaxer and con artist, who had been fired as a journalist multiple times for making up stories, and who had been running a publishing company she used for conning authors out of money during the time she claimed to have been a full-time prostitute on the Wallen. Now that her face was known, it became very clear very quickly that she had never worked there.
The remarkable thing, if one is not already grizzled and cynical from seeing it happen over and over again, is that the municipality didn't drop her as advisor. She kept her position, despite the denouement, and the responsible alderman (who is currently deputy prime minister) claimed that "We realize like no other that the Red Light is surrounded by question marks and obscurities. That now questions are raised about the resumé of this woman does not mean that nothing is wrong in the Red Light. Her stories don't differ from the experiences of other prostitutes." There was, according to him, proof, secret proof, that she had been truthful, and her advice was still great.
Amsterdam doesn't use her name as a passe-partout anymore, but she is still, although rarely, used to show that Amsterdam listens to prostitutes when it comes to prostitution policy. There was a short flurry of press attention when her real background was revealed, but it has since died down, and it hasn't damaged Amsterdams credibility when it comes to prostitution policy one iota. The books are still in the shops under non-fiction, and people still take the municipality of Amsterdam seriously when they say they listen to whores.
When it was still shocking news, I had some hope it might change peoples minds, or at least make the media more cautious to believe the horror stories. She wasn't the first fake victim to be exploded, and she won't be the last. But now it's old news, people are irritated when you bring her up, and the newspaper and journalists are more often chided for "damaging the Cause" of combating trafficking than lauded for their incisive reporting.
I think it is obvious why we're worried what will happen when the new prostitution law gives the municipalities many new powers to persecute us. It lowers the threshold for taking action against us, and that's the only thing still protecting us from the frenzied anti-prostitution policies. They will be able to do openly what they do under pretense now, and they will be able to go much further at much lower cost. But more about that in the next article.
Series on the Dutch Model:
War on sex work