Where does prostitution take place.
Windowprostitution. This usually takes place in designated areas where the windows are on a public road. Sometimes the windows are situated around a courtyard. Two of the participating cities had large window areas. In Utrecht they are situated in boats on the outskirts of the city and there is a small area in the centre. In the Hague it is concentrated in two streets. Both in Utrecht and The Hague the area is characterized by a kind of monoculture, there are hardly any shops or café’s in the prostitution streets.
The sex worker sollicits clients in the street or the clients accost the sex worker. Car prostitution: the sex worker picks up the client with a car, is also considered street prostitution. This is a rather marginal phenomenon in the Netherlands. The designated areas in the larger cities have been closed down. Of all the larger cities in the Netherlands only Utrecht allows it on the condition that the sex worker applies for a license.
In sex clubs the clients usually meet the sex worker at the bar. In clubs alcohol is served.
Privehuizen or private clubs.
In Private Clubs there usually work a small amount of women. No alcohol is served. From the outside these places look like ordinary houses. The sex workers are not supposed to drink with clients. When a client arrives, the sex workers introduce themselves and he chooses one of the workers, or not.
The most outstanding characteristic of escort is that the sex worker go to the place that the client determines: usually his or her house or a hotel. This can be organized by agencies or the sex worker can work independent. These escort agencies work on a regional or even a national basis. One may find several agencies with different names who have the same owner. They often change names and go in and out of business. (Eysenk Smeets et al, 2007) In most cities these agencies have to apply for a license.
Prostitution in sex shops
In some shops where they sell erotic magazines and movies there are cabins where a client can withdraw with a sex worker. The number of these places are dwindling. During the research we only found a few in Rotterdam.
Working from one’s own home
The sex worker receives clients in his or her own home. The sex worker actually lives on the workplace. Usually the sex worker takes care not to be noticed in the neighbourhood. From the outside these places are inconspicuous.
Privéontvangst or temporary brothel
The sex worker. receives clients in a place that is rented for sex work.The place is sometimes shared with other sex workers.
The sex worker rents a room in a hotel where she receives. This can be organized by an agency or by the sex worker her/himself. In recent years the police have dismantled a few large international agencies who placed mostly non- Dutch women in the larger hotels, usually for a few days and replaced them in other hotels in or outside the Netherlands. If a sex worker just goes to the hotel bar to recruit clients, we call it bar prostitution.
The sex worker recruits her clients in a bar. If she makes money on the drinks a client offers her (provision), we call it animeerprostitution. One of our respondents did that. She worked fixed hours in this bar. The male respondents who went to bars did not get a percentage on drinks, but used these places to find clients. The women there were treated as employees, they had for example fixed working hours and never orders drinks for themselves. But it was very hard to get them to talk about recruiting clients for sex work, because the owners would intervene. These places where women work could only be found in Rotterdam, where they could be recognized by a very retro façade, name and interior decoration. In 2012 the Rotterdam municipality had closed down the majority of these bars.
Erotic massage is under Dutch law part of the sex industry, though intercourse does not always take place. It is directed at a sexual climax by means of bodily contact. It may occur under names like Body to Body, Tantra massage or massage with a happy ending. In some places it is part of the ‘normal’ servicing: intimate and oral contacts. Most of these places are styled according to a ‘wellness’ concept. There are no bars and no alcohol is served.
Prostitution at facilities for erotic shows
In some sex cinema’s, strip clubs sex workers recruit clients.
Prostitution in Swingers’clubs
Prostitution in swingers’s clubs occurs in two forms. A man may take a sex worker because he is not allowed in unaccompanied. Second sex workers may ask payment for services under the cover of being an amateur sex worker.
In an erotic cafe where prostitution takes place, the female sex worker can enter without a fee. The men have to pay an entrance fee. Usually there are erotic shows.
FKK means Freie Körper Kultur These are sauna clubs. These places are quite large. One doesnot find them in the big cities in the Netherlands.
In 1999 there were 2090 windows for rent in the Netherlands. In 2009 this was reduced to 1460. (Source: VNG= Association of Dutch Municipalities and data provided by municipalities and owners of window facilities). Due to rulings in connection with Bibob law this number may be further dwindled.
Street prostitution: During the eighties in all the large cities and in some provincial towns special zones for street prostitution were created. In sum total there were 9 toleration zones. These places were meant for sex workers who were dependent on drugs. The rationale behind this was harm reduction: the sex workers could be targeted for health care and their safety could be monitored. As it turned out that in these places in the major cities victims of traffic were put to work, these toleration zones were closed in Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam. In 2011 the toleration zone in Eindhoven ceased to exist. The toleration zones of Heerlen and Arnhem are in the process of being closed down.It still exists in Groningen and Nijmegen.
Clubs and private brothels In 2000 it was estimated that the number of clubs and private clubs was 800. (Visser, 2000). In 2011, this number was reduced to 370. (Source: Association of Owners of Relax Facilities).
Workplaces for male sex workers: The only brothel where male sex workers can meet male clients is in Amsterdam.. And as far as we know there is little group of male – mostly migrants from Romania- who pick up clients in bars and sauna’s. All other male sex workers advertise on the internet. (Van Gelder en Van Lier, 2011) and own fieldwork.
Workplaces for transgenders (transvestites) : In Amsterdam there is small street in the Red Light District where the brothel owners allow transgenders and transvestites to work. Source: interviews for the report mentioned above.Males who offer services to women – gigolo’s- can only be found on the internet.
Number of sex workers in general
30.000 is a figure that circulates on the Internet and is often quoted in reports about the Netherlands, but there are good reasons to assume that it is a serious overestimation of the size of the prostitution market in the Netherlands.[i] There are practical obstacles in counting the number of sex workers. In one recent report (Rotterdamse Jeugdraad, 2013), teenagers who exchange sex incidentally for a treat are also counted as sex workers. We limit the qualification sex worker for a person who offers sexual services in exchange for money on more than one occasion. One of the major obstacles in counting sex workers is the extreme mobility in prostitution. (See below, under impact.)
In the Netherlands there is no central registration of the number of sex workers. The Dutch authorities order periodical evaluations of the effects of the 2000 law that legalized the sex industry (Daalder, 2007), in which educated guesses as to the size of the national population can be found. The Tax Office can only provide data on the number of sex workers who are registered tax-payers, and admits that their files are unreliable because they are incomplete and women who have left the country. Some municipalities contract research agencies on a regular or an incidental basis to make an inventory of the sex-industry in their region or town. (Verwey Jonker, 2006, van Wijk et. al, 2010, Oude Breuil, 2011) They rely on various data sources ranging from police and tax records to personal observation.
In cities with window prostitution we based our estimate on the number of windows multiplied by a factor 2, as cities claimed that all windows were rented out in 2 shifts and had a 100 per cent occupancy rate. Based on our observations in The Hague and on the literature (van Wijk et al, 2010) this is probably an overestimation. (Wagenaar, et. al., 2011, 100)
Numbers in window prostitution
The number of windows is available from the city administration, and that number does not fluctuate very much. We used different sources: police records, municipal statistical offices and health agencies. We also went out to do our own counting. For example, of a particular group of 6 windows, 3 would be occupied from 13.00 to 18.00 hours, then all of them until midnight. However the next day, none were occupied until 18.00 hours and only 2 in the evening, and so on. Some women would only work for 2 hours; others the whole day. We observed many unoccupied windows in The Hague during daytime hours; van Wijk et. al. estimate the occupancy rate in Amsterdam at 70 per cent.
Numbers in street prostitution
The closing down of the tolerance zones in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam resulted in a heavy caseload for the Utrecht toleration zone. This problem was countered with a licensing system to ensure the enlisting of local and non trafficked women. Due to this licensing system we know that 138 women worked in 2011 on a yearly basis on this Europalaan. Now the Utrecht toleration zone and those in the provincial towns have a dwindling population of drug dependent sex workers. In 2012 only 8 sex workers used the Heerlen tolerance zone. [ii]
Ngo’s feared that the closing down of the toleration zones in the major cities would result in an outburst of illegal street prostitution throughout the town centres. But there is no evidence this occurred. Incidentally – mostly women- are being arrested for unlawful streetwalking. In Rotterdam this happened about a 100 times a year, but quite often the same woman was arrested several times. (Wagenaar and Altink, 2011, preliminary report of the Comparitive Study)
Numbers in clubs and private clubs
Wagenaar, Altink and Amesberger (2013) used information from an insider to estimate the occupancy rate of clubs, private clubs and erotic massage parlours. In small clubs she rarely found more than 4 women working, increasing to 6 or 7 in weekend evening hours. In large luxury clubs the numbers are 6 to 8 during daytime hours and 15-20 at weekend evening hours. (See also van Wijk et. al,, 2010, 74)
It is next to impossible to count the number of sex workers who work through agencies as it is next to impossible to keep track of the number of agencies. Especially the unlicensed agencies come and go. The number of sex workers may differ from agency to agency on a daily basis.
The internet is used by most sex workers to advertise. Quite often sex workers who work in licensed facilities try to invite their clients to come to the facilities on a certain fixed hour. But some combine this with recruiting clients independently from the facilities. Sex workers who work from their own home, work as independent escort (without an agency intervening) and who work together in a temporary brothel and meet clients in hotels, work through the internet. Wagenaar, Altink and Amesberger (2013) developed a methodology for getting an estimate of the number of sexworkers who do this on a random day. It was impossible to get an aggregate estimate for a yearly basis. The researchers only counted sex workers who, according to their ad, did not work in a club or escort service that day. They counted 10 different sites on different days. This resulted in 282 unique numbers per day that lead to a total of 28602 hits on the different sex sites. The last number suggests an avalanche of Internet prostitution, but most mobile numbers generated between 2 and 2000 hits. On an average day only 282 unique numbers are offered on al the sex sites combined in the Netherlands. These sex workers cannot easily be traced to a specific city, as most of them advertise regionally.[iii]
NB: It is too soon to gauge the number of sex workers in Chinese massage parlours.
Wagenaar, Altink and Amesberger that in the four largest Dutch cities about 2200 sex workers are active on an average day, with somewhat more in weekends and somewhat less on weekdays.[iv] They did not dare to give an annual number. Besides the workers in the largest cities an unkown number is working in the smaller towns and the villages. But it is safe to conclude that the number of 25.000- 30.000 is an exageration.
As sex work is a low income job, which does not require special training with room for many self employed workers, sex work is a job that attracts migrants. The conditions for sex work are as a rule better in the Netherlands than in their home countries and they can keep their job a secret from their families in the homeland. The number of nationalities of sex workers working in the Netherlands has increased over the last decennia. In the eighties the migrants came mostly from Thailand, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. In 1994 there were also women from Ecuador, Brazil, Chili and several East-European countries at work. In 1994 12 nationalities were counted, but in 2002 this number had increased to 40. According to Tampep 70 percent of the sex workers in the Netherlands are migrants. (Tampep, 2007). The authors of the last WODC reports (Dekker et al, 2006) counted 40 percent of Dutch women among their 354 interviewees. One can only make a rough esyimate of the percentages of migrants in Dutch prostitution. The population may vary from day to day, from shift to shift and from sector to sector. According to the field workers of De Rode Draad, they encounter a higher percentage of migrants in window prostitution than in clubs and in private houses.(Rode Draad, 2012) It is also reported that in the evening and night shifts in the windows there are more migrants than at daytime. (Van Wijk, 2010), window owners and managers of window facilities).
Concentrations of migrants in certain sectors and localities
In the Hague in Geleenstraat (window prostitution) we counted at one point in 2010 as many Hungarians as women from other Middle and Eastern European countries.(Source Hookers.nl)
Table 2: Country of origin Geleenstraat a snapshot Hookers nl in 2011. An example
|Nationality||Nederlands||Latijns am||Aziatisch||Hongaars||Oost Europees||Anders||Totaal|
In the Hardebollenstraat in Utrecht we know that there are many Latin American women. The evaluation of the Utrecht prostitution policy (2009) states hat 12 percent of the population of the larger window area is Dutch. This may now be far lower, as according to former workers of Rode Draad, Dutch women moved after the mandatory registration was introduced for this area. In the Preliminary Report (Interim 2011) Wagenaar and Altink described d the high percentage of Thai sex workers in Rotterdam in clubs and massage parlours. According to Eysink Smeets et al(2007) many Romanian women are working for escort agencies.
Wagenaar and Altink found that many advertisements on the internet were placed in Dutch language. The grammatical phrasing and spelling lead us to believe that these sex workers were Dutch or had lived in the Netherlands for a long time. This was particularly true of sex workers who claimed to work from their own homes. The interviewees in the Wagenaar and Altink research who advertized on the internet were also Dutch. Some authors (Kempadoe en Doezema, 1998) voice the idea that black women usually work in cheap forms of prostitution. In the Netherlands we have seen no evidence of this. [v]
The youngest respondent in the small sample of the Wagenaar and Altink reseach was 20, the oldest 52. The average age was 34,68. Only two respondents were younger than 21 and three were older than 50. The largest group (11) 25 until 31. 8 were over 40. Of 5 respondents it was estimated that: one was quite young: but not underaged because she worked in a licensed club, and the others were over forty. Although our sample not allow to draw conclusions about the age distribution of the total population of sex workers in the Netherlands, and combined with other sources, it nevertheless provides some data about age.
The averages age may vary from sector to sector or even from shift to shift. In the windows the women working on day shifts are mostly a bit older than the women who work in the night shifts. (Van Wijk, 2010, Evaluatie Utrecht, 2009). The women working in Utrecht on Zandpad window prostitution are young (around 20), the women working in Hardebollenstraat window prostitution are much older. (Evaluatie Utrecht, 2009.) Also in Amsterdam we see this variety in age between the window areas. The women who work at the Wallen, are mostly young, whereas the women working in the Amsterdam Singel area are much older. (Van Wijk et al., 2010). In the evaluation of the Utrecht policy (2009) it was found that the majority of the sex workers counted in Utrecht were between 22-30. It should be kept in mind that in Utrecht the vast majority of the sex workers work at the Zandpad, the window area. In the other sectors in Utrecht, the women working from their homes are generally over 26. (Oude Breuil, 2011) (See also our section on sex work that is offered on the internet).
The women working for escort services are in general younger than the women in the clubs. (Daalder, 2006) Eysink Smeets (2007) remarks in his research on escort agencies that women who work for the cheaper and middle range escort agencies are mostly around 20, but the women working for the more expensive agencies are older (25-30 years old). This is consistent with other research. (Oude Breuil et al., 2010) where the few women who were identified as escorts were 20-41 whereas the women in the clubs were between 36-50. Dekker et al (2006) confirms that women in the escort agencies have generally started when they were still young. The one male sex worker who was interviewed by the Dutch team was 43. In general male sex workers are younger than women, but 41 percent is between 23-29. (Van Gelder en Van Lier, 2011) In the section about recruiting clients by way of the internet we found that the average was 31,05. Also the (few) women who work in the toleration zones are not that young. In 2003, before the closing of the Tippelzone in The Hague, the average age was 36. (SHOP, 2003)
It is difficult to account for the differences in average age between the sectors. On the Kinky.nl forum some women who are older say they avoid facilities where they have to compete with many young women. One reason why women who are working from their own home tend to be older may be because very young women usually don’t have a house yet that is suitable for receiving clients. There is also a difference in age between the groups of migrants. The Thai and Latin American sex workers are generally older than the women from Eastern and Middle European countries. (Van Wijk et al, 2010 ). We can’t say much about the most recent groups that have arrived: the Roma and Chinese workers. We know that the Chinese women are advertised as ‘young’ in Chinese newspapers. (Rode Draad, 2012)
Age of entry
Westerik’s (2009) respondents started on average when they were 23. In 2006 researchers (Dekker et al 2006) had found that 30 percent of the women had started between 20-24 years old. Of 39 interviewees in the Dutch sample we know at what age they entered sex work. Two of them started as a minor (one male at sixteen, and a woman at 17). The woman who entered at seventeen, did this in an epoch when it was not formally forbidden to work in the age of 16-18.
In the reseach by Dekker et al (2006) it is noted that 20 percent of the women over 50 have a relatively short experience in sex work. The Dutch women Westerik interviewed, remained on average 8 years in prostitution. We must bear in mind that in her small sample of only Dutch women quite a few women had already stopped for several years. In 1989 it was 15 years. (Vanwesenbeeck et al, 1989) The problem with the aforementioned research is that migrants are not included. Especially Latin American women and Thai women are older. In the report on the Thai massage parlours (Rode Draad, 2008), the fieldworkers see mostly women over forty. The same holds good for the Latin American women. (Rode Draad, Rapportage 2003) .
The average time in sex work of the small sample of Wagenaar and Altink is 12,12 years. Compared with previous research there may a small rise in the average age of active sex workers. This may be caused by the fact that women stay longer in sex work than a decade ago. Women may start at a higher age than was the case some ten years ago. (Rode Draad Trendrapportage 2012)
All evaluations of the Dutch policy (2002, 2006) state that minors are hardly ever found in licensed brothels. Whenever one minor is found, the authorities will immediately close the place down. In 2012 105 incidences of prostitution by minors were reported to Comensha. 7 of them were found in ‘escort’. 78 of these 105 minors never worked in prostitution because they were found before they could be put to work. Some of these minors were mentioned in relation to advertising on internet, working from a private home or in ‘unspecified’ prostitution, which can also mean exchange sex for goods or favours.
The percentage of the male population that visits sex workers is not the same for every country and not a constant percentage of the male population. In 1968 this percentage was in the Netherlands 12 percent, in 1981 11 and in 1989 14 percent. Less than the percentages for e.g.Spain, but more than for e.g. the UK. Still one must be careful with this figures. Some researchers ask men if they ever went in their lifetime and others of their visits in the actual year of the research. In : De Nicola (ed) 2009)
In 2009 Flight and Hulshof published a research on the number of clients of the Amsterdam Red Light District after the closure of a substantial number of windows. They stated that about 200.000 clients visited the Red Light District on a yearly basis. 90 percent of them was between 25-45 years old. Most of them were foreigners (tourists).
Since 2005 clients are involved in the fight against trafficking. Meld Misdaad (Report Crime Anonymously) started a campaign directed at clients. This was a result and the campaign was repeated in 2012. This led to an increase with 76% in reports of incidents of ‘forced prostitution’, Website: www. Meldmisdaadanoniem.nl. In the 2009 publication on clients (De Nicola) a chapter is devoted to the attitudes of clients in the Netherlands towards human trafficking. (Staring en Zaitch, 2009) [vi] Their conclusions:The clients prefer sex workers who like their job. But some overestimate the measure of independence of the women. Also some clients (of the 26 interviewees) found it difficult to distinguish between illegal and forced prostitution. Some clients could recognize incidents of trafficking but blamed the brothel owners. Others thought intervention was useless because the woman would most certainly return to her pimp. And some were eager to report force in prostitution. Also the Rode Draad (2012) willingness of clients to help victims of traffic.In 2009 Amsterdam (Bestuursdienst 2011) started a digital panel for clients to report involuntary prostitution.
Female clients As we will see under, due to lack of innovation there is no room for female clientele in the licensed prostitution. This innovation takes place on the internet. Male sex workers who cater for women can be found on the internet. This is a growing market. The anonymity of the internet makes it for women easier to overcome their inhibition to engage a male sex worker. (Van Gelder en Van Lier, 2011).
Organization of prostitution
Window prostitution is organized by the owners of the premises for window prostitution. They determine the rent, the duration of the rent and the shifts. The owners of larger premises usually hire staff to collect the rent and sometimes they hire staff to clean the rooms. Their income is not dependent on the number of clients a sex worker services. The sex workers just hire the rooms and are considered self employed.
That is not the case with the sex workers who work in clubs, in private clubs and for escort agencies. The tax office and the social security authority had a long standing conflict with the managers of the facilities regarding the working relation. As most managers set working hour, exercised authority over the workers and set the prices, the tax office and the social security authority considered them employers. But the managers remained adamant that they only had self employed sex workers in the facilities. This conflict resulted in many court cases. In 2008 this standoff was resolved by Royal Order. (See above)
Sex workers who work from their own home can do that as an entrepreneur of self employed person in some municipalities. However working self employed in a shared room, in a hotel or as an independent escort is forbidden in almost all municipalities with a prostitution policy.
The remaining pockets of street prostitution in tolerance zones are organized by ngo’s.
In the 1990s it was a common complaint that brothel operators considered it normal that women worked twelve hours a day, during six days a week. (Vanwesenbeeck et al, 1989) Holidays, days off and flexible hours resulted in conflict but since the year 2000 brothel owners have to accept part-timers. But still the schedules are a perennial source of conflicts.
Especially in window prostitution sex workers tend to make long hours. This is related to the fact that sex workers are forced to rent a window for a whole week or even longer. Due to the lack of clients and the high rent, sex workers are forced to take as many clients as they can in the time they have paid for the room. Leaving the window unoccupied is a luxury they can’t afford. (Rode Draad, 2012, van Wijk et al, 2010) Also Dekker et al (2006) notes that women who work the windows make more hours than those in (private) clubs (which is 32 hours in 4,5 days)
Breaks. When there are no clients, Wagenaar and Altink observerd that the sex workers did not sit down to read or to do something else. They spent these hours standing up, gesturing at potential clients. They also lost a lot of time bargaining with clients who did not enter.
Holidays. For the women who work in window prostitution a holiday can be very expensive: they have to pay for the window while they are away. Still the fieldworkers of de Rode Draad told Wagenaar and Altink that around Christmas they saw many unoccupied windows.
Prices and earnings
The average transaction in the window areas (Geleenstraat, the Hague, and Utrecht Zandpad) is 50 euro for a standard service (vaginal and oral). In the cheaper areas it is 25-30 (Doubletstraat, the Hague and Utrecht, Hardebollenstraat).The current economic crisis which may induce the clients to spend less on sexual services than they used to do before. The participants on the Hookers.nl forum seem to have become more money conscious. They have opened a topic on the forum ‘how frequent’, and they discuss the amount of money they have spent on sexual services. This may range from 1500 to 6000 euro’s a year. This Hookers forum is not representative because most of the clients who participate in the forum go to window areas, but it confirms the stories of the women that clients are economizing. One of our interviewees complained that men tend to hire them more often for only half an hour instead of a whole hour. In some places the women make extra money on drinking with clients, but that source of income is drying up too. Customers often say, when they offer a drink to a woman, anything but champagne.
Despite rich mythology from film and television series, exact data about the incomes of sex workers are remarkably scarce. Before 2000 only two publications give some factual information. Vanwesenbeeck et al, 1989 estimated the earnings of sex workers per hour in clubs at 38,50 guilders before tax, in the windows 99 guilders, and 60 in home prostitution. In 1991 Meulenbelt wrote a thesis in which he calculated that sex workers made an average of 4350 guilders a month, before tax.[vii] In the baseline measurement of the of the evaluation of the legalization of brothels in the Netherlands (Venicz, Vanwesenbeeck, (2000)[viii] the researchers tried to frame the matter of earnings in terms of satisfaction: ‘Are you satisfied with your earnings?’At the time, the majority was satisfied, but the answer to the question with what they were satisfied, remained in the dark. Dekker et al (2006) tried to assess sex workers’ income by looking at the number of clients a day. Wagenaar and Altink tried to broach the subject by asking when was their last day without a client. This turned out to be a useful approach because they realized they were not the only sex workers with a low income. Two women made 100 euro per (twelve hours working) day before tax. A third woman had 150 euro and another had some days that she took home 25 euros. All interviewees mentioned they often had days without clients.
Payments and costs
In some cities the owners make extra money on ‘services’. For example, a towel could be rented for 8 euro and the use of a massage table might cost 25 euro extra. In (private) clubs the managers may charge for food, lodging and sometimes for cleaning. The share of the owner of what the clients pay in (private) clubs is deducted from the payments of the clients. This is usually formulated in terms of opting- in, a collective solution for the complicated labour relations in sex facilities.
Sex workers also make considerable costs travelling to and from the workplace. At night they may have to take taxi’s. Not all sex workers in the window areas are able to do their own bookkeeping and have to hire bookkeepers. They also use the services of ‘shoppers’, men who charge a little or a lot for doing some shopping: like buying sandwiches or paper towels. Sex workers also have to buy all sorts of paraphernalia that go with the job: condoms, massage oil and sex toys. This is only partly tax- deductible; they have to proof these purchases are job related. In the opting-in they can deduct a fixed amount. Costs of hairdressers, make-up and work- clothes are not tax-deductable. (Only tv anchormen, professional sportsmen and a small number of other professions) can do that, but the tax office has forgotten to put sex workers on this list.
The owners of (private) clubs and parlours have been claiming up till 2008 that the sex workers in their facilities were self employed, not employed. One of the reasons for this was their assertion that the exercising of authority was contrary to the sex workers’ right to sexual autonomy. And exercising authority was one of the foremost characteristics of being an employer. But the tax office observed that the owners did in fact exercise authority. They set working hours, they sometimes ordered the women to clean, they had all sort of house rules and sometimes imposed a dress code. [ix] Many legal battles ensued. Almost every individual brothel owner who was told that, being an employer, had to pay social security, went to court. This proved to be a time-consuming affair. The tax office won most court cases, but the brothel owners were not cooperative.
In 2003, due to resolution in parliament (Resolution Griffith, De Pater), the Ministry of Social Affairs was given the assignment to create clarity in the labour relations in the sex industry. The two parties: sex workers (supported by the Trade Union) and the brothel owners, supported by the MKB, an organization for employers of small and middle range companies) held meetings to reach an agreement. That worked for the draft contract for working as self-employed worker, but failed in the employer- employee relation. The tax office did not approve of the draft contracts and the deliberations were ended.
The brothel owners kept insisting that any exercising of authority was against the law, according to them even against the constitution. The Ministry asked an expert on labour relations, Klara Boonstra to clarify the matter. She wrote in her report that brothel owners systematically diverted entrepreneurial risks to the sex workers. She concluded that Dutch labor law made an employer-employee relationship possible in the sex industry, provided the sexual autonomy of the women was safeguarded. This conclusion was confirmed by the court in 2005. The brothel owners considered this to be a theoretical issue. They claimed no sex worker would want to work as an employee, because she/he would not jeopardize his/her freedom. Regioplan (2006) repeated this argument and claimed it represented the opinion of the sex workers.
In the year 2005-2006 De Rode Draad received funding to inform sex workers about labour relations. The workers of the Rode Draad had a hard time getting the information about employer-employee relations across to the sex workers in the (private) clubs. Quite a few owners obstructed their attempts to give at least objective information about being an employee and tell them about the advantages. Most sex workers had heard a rather exaggerated version of the disadvantages of being an employee.[x]
Indeed, most sex workers perceived themselves as self-employed. But they tended to change their opinion when they were confronted with the disadvantages: no sick leave, no pensions, no maternity leave, no holiday bonus, no unemployment benefits and no disability provisions. (Rode Draad 2012)
In order to put an end to the stalemate between the tax office and the proprietors, a system that was a hybrid of self-employment workers and employeeship, a kind of fictitious working relation, was adapted for the sex industry. In this system the money reserved for the tax office is deducted before the owner pays the sex worker. She does not pay social security but she also cannot claim the social protection rights that are connected with employment. In order to safeguard sex worker’s rights a ‘package’ of conditions was included. This concerned the right of sex workers to set their own working hours, to wear whatever they pleased, the right to refuse clients and certain sexual actions, the right to refuse to drink with clients, the right to get a receipt any time and the agreement not to hand over a percentage of extra services to the owner. The conditions were formulated in such a way the sex worker was safeguarded against the exercise of authority on sensitive issues. They were meant to prevent coercion in accepting certain clients, to perform unwanted actions, to prevent (small scale) economical exploitation and to guarantee the women that they did not have to spend more time in sexual services than they wanted.
This ‘package’ served to remedy a flaw in the system. However, the opting-in system was originally designed for situations where authority could not be exercised whatsoever. This is the case with preachers who are hired by a religious institution, with writers who are paid by publishers and with members of local councils. But the opting-in was never designed to cover up the exercising of authority in brothels. From the diary of the insider, the interviews and the reports of De Rode Draad (2012) we must conclude that most brothel owners violate the conditions of the package on most points. There were complaints about the receipts being too few and far between or even totally absent. There are frequent complaints about this system because some owners don’t keep to the percentages that are due to the tax office but decide themselves which amount of the turnover should be handed over to the tax office and what will be the sex workers‘ cut.
The violation of the right to refuse a client is not mentioned often, mostly because there are no clients to refuse. From the menu’s of clubs and escort agencies on the internet (see section on internet) it is to be expected that sex workers are persuaded to perform unsafe oral acts. It is not listed in the package of conditions, but a variance on the right to refuse clients could be the right to refuse to participate in collective actions. In order to attract new clients some brothels have special offers in the vein of ‘two for the price of one’ or ‘all you can eat’.
The brothel owners don’t only exercise authority by violating the ‘package of conditions’, they also exercise authority in other ways. For example in some places women are not allowed to eat what and when they want. Another general complaint is that most owners did not lower the prices for the rooms, which the tax office assumed they would do, so that the cut of the women in the opting-in system is quite small. [xi] (Wagenaar en Altink,2013)
The window owners are supposed not to interfere with the work of the sex workers. They claim that the sex workers are purely self-employed. There are complaints concerned arbitrary raising of the rent and prices for extra services, like air conditioning. (see section on Utrecht.). Some window-owners (outside the Randstad) exercise indirect control with house rules about for instance which clients not to accept. There are also complaints about window owners who don’t provide invoices with the VAT amount.
Atmosphere at work
There are some indications of how the behaviour of the management contributes to a bad work atmosphere. In some of these cases one might even wonder if this could be labeled a bad employer or a violation of labour law. The facts that directly influence the work atmosphere are the placing of surveillance cameras and microphones.
One of the topics that is always mentioned in relation to ‘atmosphere’ is contact with colleagues. Due to great mobility in the field this is a very volatile issue. But it stands to reason that in a club or private house where women stay longer because they like the place, the friendships and contacts are also more lasting.
In clubs and in some private houses there are doormen, barkeepers and handymen working there. Escort agencies have drivers, usually men, who officially should have a license as a taxi driver, but this requirement is not enforced. (Interview with the tax office. 2010). According to the Rode Draad some women complain of sexual harassment by these drivers.
In some places there are so-called ‘hostesses’, intermediaries between clients, the management and the sex workers. They make it possible for brothel owners to meet the demand from the municipalities that (a) manager has to be present during opening hours. That’s why they are very important for the brothel owners who have different branches in different cities. They are very important for the atmosphere but researchers hardly pay attention to them.
Outsiders whose presence is a source of tension are partners of sex workers and drug peddlers. One woman complained about being sexually harassed by one of these ‘visitors’.Three women we interviewed were getting tired of police or other law enforcers who kept asking them over and over again if they were forced. One of the women noticed that irritation is growing all the time. Three women reported that the relation with the police has deteriorated They feel stigmatized. They voice their protest about a new shape the stigma is taking: they are seen as a victim of a basically ‘criminogeen’ (crime generating) environment, in which their partner is almost by definition a pimp. The women seem to resent the fact that they have to prove that they are ‘real sex workers’, that they are the present day variety of ‘the good whore’, the woman who is truly an entrepreneur. [xii] Clients, finally, mostly contribute to a bad atmosphere by being absent. When there are no clients or very few clients, the atmosphere is described as gloomy and despondent. This is a vicious circle: a dreary atmosphere chases clients away. A good atmosphere attracts clients who want more than just sex and want to have a good time before or after going to the rooms.
The autonomy of the municipalities has a confusing impact on sex workers. In some cities they are allowed to work from their homes, in other cities not. (Information Rode Draad, 2011, 2012) It is considered a problem that in most municipalities the number of sex facilities was frozen at the time the 2000 law reform took effect. This means that sex workers can’t start a business of their own.
Due to the dwindling number of licensed facilities and the un attractive working conditions in clubs and private clubs, many sex workers prefer to work as independent entrepreneur from their homes, in rented rooms of as escort without an agency. (Wagenaar & Altink, 2013, Altink en Bokelman, 2006, Boonstra, 2006). But the regulations in most municipalities, also in large cities like Utrecht and The Hague, make it for sex workers impossible to do so. This situation and the lack of clients and unattractive work conditions are partly the reason for the high mobility under sex workers.
Since hardly any sex worker is an employee, it is difficult to get unemployment benefit or social security payments. Sex workers complain that the opting- in (the fictitious employment) has lead to a lower income. When this system was introduced the tax office assumed that the managers of the facilities would lower the percentage the sex worker has to pay for the rent of the rooms, but this did not happen. There is lack of innovation in the sex industry. Less and less clients are attracted to the classical club with champagne and red velvet. Sex workers complain that they increasingly have to cope with days they have no client at all. It is difficult to indicate just one cause for this. Sex workers themselves all mention the economical crisis as one of the constituting factors.
Compared to 1988 (Vanwesenbeeck et al, one of the last comprehensive researches into the situation of sex workers held before the change of law), the situation of sex workers have improved on the long run. It is easier to work part time, it is more difficult to force sex workers to do cleaning work in the brothels for free or to perform an unpaid striptease act.
The police: Since 2000 there is no police corruption as regards to prostitution reported. From the digital archive of the Red Thread there are few complaints of sex workers about the police. There was one complaint about the some police –officers who call the working women ‘girls’. The other complaints (no more than ten over the last five years of the existence of Rode Draad) pertained to undue registration of names and other data by the police.
The police departments who fight human trafficking have specially trained police officers: certified police. Since 2010 there has been three major police actions in window areas in The Hague, Eindhoven and Alkmaar. All sex workers were interrogated in their situations. These kind of vetting out individual situations also happens sometimes on a smaller scale. This lead to complaints about violation of privacy. (Source: ombudsvrouw sex work and the denktank).
Flows of sex workers
Flows of sex workers, in general or mobility. Sex workers are as a rule very mobile in different senses of the word: they move geographically, from facility to facility, from one type of prostitution to another, and they move in and out the sex trade. Yet, mobility is neither uniform, nor only transnational and geographical, nor linear, as our interviews show. And we will see that it is influenced by many aspects (legal, personal, economical, work climate). Also the stigma plays a role, as a reason to work far away from the home town. Few (native) sex workers live in their place of domicile. (Van Wijk, 2010, Verwey Jonker, 2011, Rode Draad Inventarisatie Deventer, 2008). One reason for this is the persistent stigma; sex workers fear to be recognized by their neighbors.Most rules and regulations require a fixed address or work place; many sex workers, particularly migrant sex workers, have neither.
Mobility is not a uniform phenomenon however. Not all sex workers are equally mobile and some groups of sex workers report that they prefer to work in one place for years. This applies to older Dutch sex workers in some window areas in Utrecht and Amsterdam, such as the Amsterdam Singel area and the Utrecht Hardebollenstraat who have been working for years in the same room (Van Wijk, et al, 2010 and Evaluatie Utrecht, 2009), some small private clubs, where the women said they supported each other emotionally, and male Rumanian sex workers who work in the same square mile in the centre of Amsterdam for years.
Geographical mobility comes in different types. It may be a form of commuting, a moving between facilities, between cities or, as in labour migration, between countries. Many interviewees migrated with the intent to carry out sex work in a foreign country. The descriptions of their careers illustrate that at least half of all interviewees moved to various countries and/or within one country while being in sex work. Migration and commencing sex work were in most cases motivated by economic concerns and the lack of a perspective in the home country. Unemployment, the lack of job opportunities and the low income level in their home countries caused many sex workers to migrate as well as desires for buying an apartment or luxuries. But there were very individual and personal reasons too, like to flee the parent’s home and love for adventure. In addition, we found that sex workers frequently worked for short periods in neighboring countries .
Regulation is one of the root causes of mobility, both transnational as within countries. Particularly immigration law (limitations of residence and working) – in this respect labour migrants in other trades then sex work are concerned by that too – but also prostitution related laws, which has an immediate impact on mobility. Or, as happened recently with Bulgarian and Romanian women in the Netherlands: they could not work in clubs any longer and had to find a window where they could work as an independent entrepreneur: the ministry of Social Affairs and Employment issued a letter, dated on November 17, 2011, announcing that the taxation regime that was the result of the discussions between the managers of the facilities and the Tax Office was no longer valid for sex workers from Bulgaria and Romania. he recent mandatory registration in the Red Light District in Utrecht lead to an exit of Dutch nationals. (Field notes of Rode Draad, and reports to the Ombudsvrouw).
Also, police procedure contributes to mobility. In The Hague, when a police officer has reason to believe that a woman is exploited by a trafficker, he will give her “an indication” and flag her to the proprietor. The proprietor, wishing to avoid any risk to his license, then asks the woman to leave his facility. Another reason might be that, because of high housing prices in the large cities, since the 1980s commuting in general has increased.
Geographical mobility is also often instigated by the desire to move to another facility. A large fraction of sex workers does not remain in one place for a very long time. This kind of mobility takes place when sex workers want to increase their income (a new face can raise higher incomes) and when the working climate is not at their satisfaction. We realised in the interviews that sex workers changed the work place more often and within shorter periods especially at their entry in the trade. Similar to the regular labour market, it takes new entrants some time to find the right work environment. Many sex workers changed from a brothel or nightclub where animating clients to drink alcohol is often required, to places where no alcohol is served at all. Some mentioned that working during the night was reason for moving to another sector. Only a few interviewees move forth and back between the various business types.
Apart from ‘pull’ factors, mobility between facilities is also driven by ‘push’ factors. One common reason for mobility is the oft-stated fact that’ a new face’ attracts more clients. Several Dutch respondents reported that they were let go from a facility as a group (by sms) because the management wanted to bring a ‘fresh’ team. Police officers report that young women who are exploited by a pimp or trafficker are regularly forced to work in other facilities, cities and even countries to optimize their earnings potential. Insiders call this the “caroussel”. (See also van Wijk et al. 2010, 57) Mobility between clubs is quite common these days; using Tax Office data van Wijk et al report that many women are registered with more than one club or with a club and an escort agency. (2010, 82) Another often stated reason for this is, that women may develop contacts with law enforcers if they stay somewhere for a long time. Another reason for mobility is the closure of facilities. Some facilities lose their popularity with clients; others are closed by the authorities, such as large numbers of windows in Amsterdam and (possibly) The Hague. A common reason for mobility is conflict. The lack of a formal labor contract, the presence of economic and sexual exploitation, and the asymmetrical relationship between proprietor and sex workers, are a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and conflict. Dismissal or the sex worker leaving the workplace often solves these.
A relatively new kind of mobility in the Netherlands is the movement between the licensed to the unlicensed sector. 7 of the Dutch respondents in the Wagenaar and Altink report had only worked in the unlicensed sector: the temporary brothel, illegal escort, bar prostitution or working from one’s own home without a license. This included the males for whom there is no licensed sector to speak of. 18 respondents had experience in both the licensed sector as the unlicensed sector. In three cases this had to do with the fact that they were not welcome (any more) in the licensed sector. Three others did not like the working conditions in the licensed prostitution and for the others it was a way to supplement the disappointing earnings in the licensed sector. For two others it was a movement to independence and organized sex work, and back, just as the opportunity presented itself. Three women only took resort to working from their home with regular clients, to make some extra money besides the work in clubs and as an escort. The mobile phone and the Internet makes it relatively easy to generate work outside the licensed sector, and low earnings and unsatisfactory labor relations in the licensed sector propel women to try their luck in unlicensed prostitution.
It is probably fair to say that mobility in prostitution is a manifestation of a general increase of mobility in the labor market that is increasingly internationalizing. Lifetime employment contracts become more and more scarce throughout the labor market. Workers are more willing to travel or migrate for work. And, in general, labor market mobility has become more accepted among the current generation of workers.[xiii] In addition, sex workers have their own reasons to change facility of sector, but all in all increased mobility has changed the face of prostitution in contemporary society. For example, until the end of the 1990s women who worked at the windows claimed that once sex workers have tried the windows, they would never go back to a club. (Verbeek, 1996) The consensus among sex workers and experts was that sex workers would ‘graduate’ from sectors where they could not work independently to a sector where they could.[xiv] However, this assumption no longer holds. In our Dutch sample we found many women who moved from ‘low dependency’ facilities such as windows or home prostitution to ‘higher dependency’ facilities such as clubs or massage parlors, or who worked in both simultaneously. The Internet afforded them the possibility to recruit clients independently from the mediation of a proprietor. The reason is simple. As one of our respondents put it: “You go where the money is.” However, this statement must be placed in perspective: many of the women we interviewed where not on the move to make extra money, but to make any money at all.[xv]
A indicator for mobility might be change of profession. About 10% of interviewed sex workers in both countries carried out another profession simultaneously with sex work, nevertheless, the majority regard sex work as a temporary occupation and about half of the interviewees intended to quit sex work at the time of the interview. The reasons given were not a bad work climate, exploitation or another form of violence, but shame, health problems, problems with the husband, age, and decline in earnings. To quit sex work is not easy for well-educated migrant sex workers and even more difficult for the majority of poorly qualified sex workers. The exit is primarily hindered by a lack of legal job opportunities and/or good paid jobs in the Netherlands, but some favour the freedom (in respect to working time, reconciliation of family and work, issues of directives etc.), which goes along with sex work. And it is a matter of fact that sex work is an entry occupation in a very restrictive and closed international labour market and an occupation in which one still can earn much more as in other unqualified trades at home and abroad.
To sum up: the evidence on mobility is a mixed bag. High transnational mobility goes together with high mobility in workplace and proprietor. However, the latter applies more to certain sectors and countries than others. The Netherlands has higher mobility than the Netherlands and mobility in window prostitution is higher than in clubs. Regulation is a potent factor in inducing mobility. Mobility can be caused by pull and push factors. There is also an external factor which influences mobility: the availability of cheap bus and airplane tickets. That is why migrants from other European countries can take vacations and traffickers can not use easily deceive their victims with fictitious debts for transportation, thougt they use the argument of the cost of housing.
It is hard to make a distinction between the mobility of trafficked and not trafficked sex workers, though as is mentioned before, traffickers tend to move the women. The three women who had reported their traffickers with the police in the Wagenaar and Altink research had all gone back to prostitution but voluntarily, without having to give up money to pimps.
In respect to the nationalities of the trafficked sex workers, the National Rapporteur notes in the 8th report (2010) that in the years of 2000- 2009 there has been a considerable growth in the number of Dutch victims (from 7% to 26%). Bulgaria has figured on the third place as a country of origin of victims, but this percentage has dwindled from 9 to 4 per cent. As to the victims from outside the European Union there has been a sudden increase of Chinese victims in 2008; the percentage of Nigerian victims fluctuated between 5 and 15 per cent.
In the Netherlands prostitution as commercial sex between consenting adults as such is not considered gender violence. Loverboys can be seen as traffickers but one might also consider it as a kind of relational violence with economical exploitation as a form of domestic violence. There are several programs to warn young people against abusive relations.
The National Rapporteur (2010) ascribes part of the increase of Dutch victims to the high measure of alertness of the police.Wagenaar and Altink don’t report a high incidence of violence of clients towards female sex workers. Neither did this issue figure in the top ten of complaints of sex workers at the Rode Draad. But once or twice a year a serious incident takes place, which has a shocking effect on the whole population of sex workers, just as a serious incident with a taxi driver would have on all taxi drivers. However there are some incidents in the archives of the Red Thread of violence towards transgenders. Some male migrant sex workers reported violence of clients but also admitted stealing from their clients. (Wagenaar en Altink, 2013).
The male sex workers in the sample of Wagenaar and Altink reported the absence of policing in bars, whereas the bars where female sex workers work were often visited by the police. According to the tax office (2012) no male sex worker was registered as a tax payer while from January 2008- March 2010 about 5000 female workers had appeared in the records. (Source: tax office). Transgenders are usually refused in clubs and private clubs and report discrimination when they want to rent a window.
A gigolo who wanted to rent a window provoked a very aggressive reaction of some window owners. (Shahar, 1997) (For female clients: see above, under clients). Female outreach workers are sometimes refused in the window areas where the windows are grouped around courtyards. (Field notes Rode Draad). Since the majority of sex workers are women, we might say that the discrimination resulting from the stigma on prostitution is also included in gender discrimination. This results in various incidences ranging from verbal abuse to being refused as clients by banks.
Every person working in the Netherlands is obliged to have health insurance, including migrants. Some sex workers don’t have that, since they need an address and bank account for this. In the case of a life threatening situation, uninsured people will be treated. The health insurance companies don’t ask for people’s professions, so sex workers don’t have to say how they make a living. In all large cities and in regional centres people with a STD can go to a special clinic for a discrete treatment. STD’s, including HIV are not included in the contagious diseases that must be reported. Open TBC on the contrary, is. There is no mandatory testing system for sex workers. The municipal health organizations have a long standing relation of trust with the sex workers. They do outreach work among sex workers in order to give them health education. In all surveys (Utrecht,. 2009, Wagenaar en Altink, 2013, De Rode Draad), the sex workers value this service. They do regular health checks on a voluntary basis. There is some debate about the recent registration in Utrecht, which is a task of this municipal health organization, This new task might interfere with the so cherished confidentiality. The umbrella organization of health workers who do outreach among sex workers worry about the sex workers who can’t or won’t work in the licensed brothels. There is also some concern that the national registration of sex workers might force sex workers underground who want to avoid registration. Another worry is that the harsh competition might induce sex workers unsafe sex. Unsafe oral sex is already quite common an some clients are reported to take greater risks, since there is medication for hiv. (annex of Wagenaar and Altink, unpublished, and the named websites).On sites like hookers.nl and kinky.nl there is a section about health education. Also clients who report to have had unsafe vaginal/ anal sex are told off by other clients.
Sex workers who need or want an abortion are referred to clinics by the social and health workers. We don’t however know if fundamentalist Christian out reach organizations, a relative new phenomenon in Dutch prostitution do the same. There are no reports about sex workers who have trouble becoming a mother. But there are some complaints about staying a mother. Being a sex worker might figure in custody cases. (Helpdesk Rode Draad, Rode Draad, 2012) .
Goraj (2012) wrote a master thesis on the depiction of prostitution in the Dutch media in the years. Sex workers were overwhelmingly described as the passive, hapless victims of trafficking. In general the language in which prostitution was described was sensationalist, emotive and consisted of detailed descriptions of sexual and physical abuse. In addition, media reports are replete with vague, elastic, but unvaryingly alarming indications such as “hundreds of thousands”, “millions”, “rapidly increasing”, “epidemic”, or the currently popular “tsunami”. (Goraj, 2012)
In the Netherlands prostitution often appears in the media. It does not make sense anymore to just look at newspaper articles. (Lexis Nexis is not available for me). One newspaper may have several local editions with different headlines. There are also many internet newspapers, bloggers and local stations who also publish articles on websites.
This article is based on both the interim report to the International Comparitive study and the study itself, with some additional information.
Wagenaar and Altink
[i]The number about the Netherlands that is most often quoted nationally and internationally is 25.000 sex workers nationally. This number dates from 1999 and represents an extrapolation of estimates of Municipal Public Health Agencies. (van der Helm and van Mens, 1999) Van Wijk et al. report that a few years later (2004) the Municipal health Agency in Amsterdam estimates that 8000 sex workers are active in the city. That number has been quoted since. (2010, 32) In both cases the estimates are highly dubious. For one thing, they probably represent annual numbers, although that is not clear from the original sources.
[ii] Televisionprogram, De Vijfde Dag, 25 oct. 2012
[vi] Zaich, Damian, Staring, Richard, The Flesh is weak, the spirit even weaker in: Di Nicola, AndreaProstitution and human trafficking, Focus on clients, 2009, Springer New York
[vii] Meulenbelt, E.B., De verdiensten van de prostitutie, Amsterdam, 1991.
[viii] Venicz, L., Vanwesenbeeck, I., Er gaat iets veranderen in de prostitutie, Den Haag, 2000
[ix] Boonstra, K., Aerts, M.C.M., Zuidema, R., Arbeidsrecht voor prostituees? de (on) mogelijkheid van toepassing in het arbeidsrecht op arbeidsverhoudingen in de prostitutiebranche, Amsterdam, 2006.
[x] De Rode Draad described all her experiences in a report. (Altink en Bokelman, 2006)
[xi] The sources: an interview with the tax office, minutes of meetings with sex workers and their representatives and brochures issued by the tax office
[xii] On a public hearing in the Senate on June, 12, 2012, the spokeperson for the Dutch police said that he wanted a good registration of sex workers as real self employed women.
[xiii]For example, Mobiliteitsbalans 2009, Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid, 2009
[xiv]Van Wijk et al, 2010, and Biesma et al, 2006, confirm this for Amsterdam.
[xv] We know of at least 4 women in our sample that they worked in clubs (including migrants) and also made money on the side by working in a temporal (illegal) brothel or at home. They made appointments with clients through the Internet. One respondent had a relatively short career between working in a massage parlor and at home. One woman had done virtually everything: window, escort, had sex in cars and was currently working in a club. Another had applied for a license to work on the streets, but had to wait too long and started to work in an SM facility, which she combined with receiving clients in a temporary brothel.
- 1 Where does prostitution take place.
- 2 Recent estimates
- 3 Number of sex workers in general
- 4 Migrants
- 5 Age
- 6 Age of entry
- 7 Minors
- 8 Clients
- 9 Organization of prostitution
- 10 Prices and earnings
- 11 Payments and costs
- 12 Labour relations
- 13 Atmosphere at work
- 14 Impact
- 15 Flows of sex workers
- 16 Gender violence
- 17 Health
- 18 The debate
- 19 Sources