Three important events have happened since we got back from Morocco. On the Saturday when we got back, our group split up into two and we had a tour of the Red Light District, which SIT paid for, and which lasted about an hour and a half. The next event, was when we went to Den Hague and saw a trial of a war criminal from the former Yugoslavia being charged for crimes on Humanity (for example: rape, religious persecution, genocide, etc) and had a lecture on gender violence. On Friday the 13th, the day we went to Utrecht, we went to the NISSO/Rutgers group , got a lecture from the gender clinic (who does work in Utrecht but came to Amsterdam to give us a lecture), and watched a movie about rape in Croatia (it was a fictional movie, though based on real events).

Sex Workers and the Red Light District Tour

Before our group went on the tour of the Red Light District we had Petra Zimmerman, a former Sex worker from Canada, come present the legal background of Prostitution in the Netherlands to us. I thought it would be interesting to share them with you because prostitution and the facts around it are not always shared, usually have to be researched, you have to know where to find the information, and there is a large stigma around the group still, even in the Netherlands.

The term sex work, was coined in the 90’s because prostitution as a term was seen as limiting because of the range of types of sex work. In Holland, sex work is formally decriminalized and/or legalized as well as in Germany, Hungary, 2 states in Australia, and New Zealand. In most countries, prostitution is not illegal. Where it is illegal, it takes place in many tolerated and some licensed areas such as escort agencies, exotic dance bars, peep shows, etc.

There has been an international movement of sex worker’s rights activism since the 1970’s. Almost every country has one more groups advocating for the rights of sex workers, which usually works with health departments and/or glbtq (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer) groups.

The law prohibiting brothels in Holland was abolished in 2000. This law was abolished to make prostitution easier to regulate and to promote change. There are also, and continue to be, human trafficking issues that need to regulated and addressed. The rules that come along with this law are that sex workers must be licensed in the city (which is nontransferable and renewable every 3 years), have to be an EU citizen, over 18 years of age (both client and sex worker). What is not allowed under this law is: pimping using force, coercion, or deceit, trafficking across borders, and sex workers who are minors. Changes that have been made since 2000 include 1/3 closure within the industry, decrease in street prostitution , more open debate about sex work as labor, greater policing and controls, greater tax control, intolerance of non-EU immigrants, and outside pressure for abolitionist groups.

There are four areas of work that are public outside of the internet: brothels (used to be called ‘flop house hotels’, which have been cleaned up since 2000), escorts, windows, and on the street. There are also places on the streets where you can ‘drive-in’, where they have clean needles on site, a sex worker who can answer questions, fresh coffee, and a doctor who can do STI testing.

The industry in the Netherlands took an overview of the sex work in 2007. There are 350 women who have been reported to be working in the Netherlands (this number is not accurate though because there are male, transgender and illegal prostitution). The average money earned by sex workers is 1095 Euros per week (before expenses and taxes). The biggest motivation to work in the industry is money, the average age started is from 18-29, average work hours is 32, and average years worked is one to four. The percentages of people who work in each area is as follows: Window (46 %) , Sex Club (20 %) ,Brothel (10 %), Escort (7 %) , Massage (5 %) , Cinema (5 %) , Swingerhas prostitution allowed in the space (1.5 %), and other (5.5 %).

The issues in sex work in the Netherlands are migration, health, and taxes. There is a legal ability to migrate to the Netherlands, but non-EU people are not allowed to work there, therefore third parties are usually involved. There is a disincentive to work in the EU if a non-EU citizen because there is a threat of deportation and lack of basic rights. There have been anti-trafficking measures including identification requirement, awareness training, a legal option called meld misdaad anonym, and the B9 option which is a three month reflection period (can stay in country if the person wants to bring charges against their trafficker, which in 2006 created a possibility for a residence permit). Health issues include getting health insurance (if freelance, you pay all of it, if have employer, you pay half) and STI screening. Basic costs are out of reach for most sex workers and there is failure to recognize the more common related ailments. For STI’s, testing is voluntary for both sex workers and clients and in the clinics, it is both free and anonymous. STI prevention still focuses on SW (sex workers) but not on clients. Since most of sex workers are self-employed, most of expenses are deductible, some are quasi-employed, and some are employed by employers. In the Netherlands, many of the sex workers do not speak English and there is a lack of clear multilingual information on paying taxes. There is still a stigma from remaining open about means of gathering money. There are increased controls on sex workers because 30 % are being unfairly treated by the tax department.

Since 2000, there have been new developments in the escort branch in terms of policing, licensing, and independent sex workers. There has been an indoor work tax scheme, a new national kaderwet (a legal term that I do not know the meaning of), the tax department has organized for some people to do taxes for prostitutes which has been forcing prostitutes to register. The legal system has also started to employ BIBOB (2003), which is a law that allows for financial forensic investigations in businesses. It says that the owner of a business should be able to show bookkeeping for the previous 10 years where money has come and gone that is not linked to organized crime. This law is being used to investigate brothel owners who cannot clearly show their books, which results in revoking license and closure of windows. Some owners of brothels are being paid off by business owners before the investigation closes so that they can come away with a sum of money. This is clearly an abuse of the industry to close it down, which creates a lack of jobs for many women, men, and trans people.

Clients can be stereotyped, not all are creepy men, a lot treat the women very well and consider their desires, but there are assholes who are chased out by the girls in the windows. Some clients can face criminal charges for curb crawling and solicitation (in some cities it is legal to be a sex worker but not for someone to purchase what the sex worker is selling). There has been a demand of the ‘Swedish approach’, which claims all clients to be criminals (purchasing is criminal offense). In Sweden, which has strong feminist politics, they argue that prostitution is a part of the patriarchy and thus is a bad field of work.

Lately, there has been a discussion for demand. Decriminalization is the way to go because you can mobilize to change your own conditions, to struggle for your world vision, and your aspirations (needs to be looked at as work to ask what are good working conditions?). Some issues that continue to be difficult and controversial is drug use by sex workers, trafficked persons, and illegal workers. There has been an education campaign on accountability and questioning if legalization is worth it. From what I learned, I think that it is because EU workers now have labor rights and sex workers can organize to fight for what they want. There is also no discriminatory law around mandatory testing for STIs or registration (which is not always good), public attitudes shift with politics, and there are still many issues surrounding power imbalance.

Interesting Facts about Sex Workers and Activism

  • The Sonagachi union in Calcutta, India has more than 60,000 registered sex worker members and is the largest sex worker organization in the world

  • March 3 is sex worker’s rights day

  • In Leon, France has hunger strike in protest of Police Violence in Church (Police violence is the largest issue globally)

  • Red umbrellas are the sign of showing support for sex workers

  • Resources


The Tour

During the tour we were shown the church which was built to encourage spirituality of the sex workers, which worked in reverse. The church was used by people who worked in the red light as a social gathering place and is now a museum (it is called the old church is located at the beginning of the red light).

We then saw the row of where sex workers stand in windows and many erotic clubs were located. We saw the banana bar, which is where a lot of fruit play happens, and we went inside of a window that had been investigated under the BIBOB law so it was out of business. The prostitute education center had access to it, so our group of ten get to go in and stand in the window. When our tour guide was giving us information about the women, many people stared at us, probably thinking we were going to have an orgy in one of the rooms. After the tour guide explained to us the basics of the window, we went inside one of the rooms and saw the bed, etc. The room had a bed, a sink, a refrigerator, and a toilet. Each sex worker buys a window, we were told, from 50-150 euro a shift (which lasts 8 hours) so they have all of their personal needs at their fingertips.

After seeing the room, we went back to the center, which was near the church and saw a monument that had been erected for the prostitute activism movement. The monument was green and was of a window frame with a woman leaning against it in high heels.

The tour was incredibly informative, though we had learned most of the information during the lecture in the previous week.

Den Hague

On Wednesday we went to the Hague, which is where parliament is located. There, we had lunch and went to the war crime court for the former Yugoslavia. Many of the crimes that are being tried at the court are for genocide, rape, and crimes against humanity. All of the people being tried there are people who were in positions of authority during the many wars during the 1990’s to separate the former countries of Yugoslavia.

To get into the court, we had to discard all of our items that could receive a signal and put them in a locker. We had to go through two security systems to get inside and we had a debriefing by a woman who worked at the court. The lecture we had was on gender violence in the war. We learned about how rape is now termed as genocide because of how women are dehumanized during massive rapes. We learned about how it was used as a strategy during war.

After the lecture we went to go see the case. We had to take headphones and a translator radio so that we could listen because the judges were from all over and so were the ones being tried (one of the judges spoke French, another English, another Dutch, etc). We sat behind a large window and watched the trial in front of us. On the left of us were the lawyers who were defending the one being tried, on the right were the prosecutors, in the front were the judges who wore red and white little frocks. There were five judges and one person was on the stand, a caterer for the army. The part of the case that we went to go see was sort of boring because it was tedious and they asked questions about logistics. The Croatian man who was on trial licked his lips and answered very slowly. I left after ten or so minutes because I started to fall asleep and felt sort of hungry. After I left, most of the SIT group came downstairs and we left the courts to go back to Amsterdam. We then returned home.


Friday: Utrecht, Gender Clinic, Croatia Movie

On Friday, we went to Utrecht, saw a gender clinic lecture, and watched a movie on Croatia. The day was incredibly long. We went on the train at 9 am and came back around 10 pm (because of the movie).

During the first part of the day, we went to NISSO and collected the documents that we needed for our ISP projects during the month of April and May. Most of the books that I got did not have the articles that I wanted in them or were outdated, so I got mostly digital journal articles. Emily, one of the girls on the program, is also working on the same subject as I am (intersex issues and the medical field- but she is writing a children’s book where I am proposing a patient-based approach), so she and I are going to collaborate on our readings/books we got.

After NISSO, I headed out with Laura, Vivianna, Chelsea, Hannah, and Emily. We went to a local market, where they were selling Vietnamese food (lumpias), bakeries, clothes, waffles, and fruit. I had fries with peanut sauce for a snack, got a blood orange, and a cherry/apricot pastry. The fries in Utrecht (cheaper than Amsterdam) could be ordered with many types of sauce including mayo (the Dutch’s favorite topping for fries), curry sauce, spicy sauce, peanut sauce, ketchup, pickle sauce, and more.

After getting food, we headed to the train station and caught a train to Amsterdam. In the middle of our trip, we had to connect in the middle, and Emily rolled herself a cigarette. When we got back, we headed to SIT by tram and sat down for a lecture on the gender center for transgender people. The first part of the lecture was by a man who told us about the transition period and the legal requirements needed to be able to get the surgery. The second part of the lecture was a discussion session period with someone who was an FTM transsexual and MTF transsexual, Thomas and Sara. Each of them told us about their experiences with surgery, dating, academia, their families, and their childhood. Both of them were open, kind, and funny. They seemed happy, hesitant, and brave. I respected them instantly because it takes a lot to transition, change your body, and live as you want when it is still so stigmatized to go outside of a gender and sexual binary.

After an hour break, we had a soup night (with sandwiches, wine, and chocolate) and watched a Croatian movie about rape. The movie was about a mother who had been raped during the war, her relationship with her daughter, the mother’s experience at the bar she worked with, and the daughter’s relationship with a boy at school. The movie had a lot of angst and post-war conflict. It was painful to watch because of the stigma that the mother still felt and how she revealed how her daughter was born and the circumstances to her daughter.

This week was long, intensive, yet short.