whorepowerThe protests of sex workers against unfair regulations in the past is unfortunately badly documented. But we know that for example in France from roughly 1300 onwards unofficial ‘queens of the debauched’ (reines des ribauds) sort of organized protests against the clothing regulations for ‘sex workers’. Their ‘guild’ was also supposed to have donated a glass stained window to the Notre Dame in Paris. (Het Vrije Volk, 14-6-1975).

In the twenties in the 20th century there was an initiative to start a collective in Germany. In 1919 the Hilfsbund Berliner Prostituierter was founded to protest against ‘reglementation’. (Waldenberger, 2012). They even had their own magazine, Pranger, which was published by Betty Gutmann but was forbidden in 1920. (Hamburger Echo, 8-1-1920).

The first ‘modern’ sex workers organization was founded in May 1973 in the United States: Coyote (Cast Off Your Own Tired Ethics). The real start of the sex workers movement in Europe is pinpointed at June, 2, 1975 in Lyon. Sex workers occupied the Church of St. Nizier, in protest against their random imprisonment. The movement spread all over France. (Mathieu, 2001).The French feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir rushed to the church to express her solidarity. (Het Vrije Volk 14-6-1975). The French movement was able to secure the help of abolitionists, who fought the unjust imprisonment of sex workers but stopped short at the fight for recognition. (Mathieu, 2001). They were against organized prostitution.

In England the fight for household wages joined forces with the English Collective of Prostitutes, raising the issue of sex as unpaid household work. In the United States a similar development took place. (Jenness, 1993) Later on, in England, Helen Buckingham of PLAN (Prostitution Laws Are Nonsense) campagned with baroness Joan Vickers, member of the House of Lords. (Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 25-6-1979)

In the 1980s sex workers’ movements burgeoned in many Western European countries in Australia  Brazil and Uruguay. This had to do with the Aids Crisis, which offered sex workers an unique opportunity to do outreach, under the motto:’ we are not the problem, we are the solution to the problem.  In this way they assigned themselves a task in the safe sex campaigns. Irrespective of the policy regime, sex workers movements now flourish in India, Bangladesh and South- Africa. Due to the political changes in Europe, Eastern European organizations joined the community. Now they communicate with each other in various internet communities.

The Netherlands: Sex workers’ organizations till 1985

Until the seventies of the previous century indifference towards prostitution ruled in the Netherlands. That changed when in the city of Rotterdam a problem emerged with the growth of the sex- industry, notably the window prostitution. Due to developments in mobility and new technical possibilities (8 mm films) window prostitution and the number of sex theatres, ifrom the sixties onwards had  increased spectacularly, much to the dismay of the residents of the Red Light Districts, especially in Rotterdam.

From 1979 onwards a small sex workers organization emerged: VIP (Very Important Prostitutes). It attracted enormous media attention and had a very eloquent spokeswoman: Violet. They ran a hotline and were supported by some feminist writers. It remained very small and petered out. One of its members continued the organization and focussed on street workers and advocated for instance free needle exchange.

The next sex workers’ organization was The Red Thread.

Sietske Altink

July 2015