October 19, 2011

Tackling coercion with coercion – mandatory registration for prostitutes

By Marlene Werner

According to Lodewijk Asscher, the deputy mayor of Amsterdam, the Dutch participate in a ‘collective agreement of silence’ with regards to the precarious situation in the Dutch prostitution industry, recently reported TROUW.

I beg to differ.

I’ll even break the silence with knowingly running risk of the terribly appalling fate of being called a “chaperone” or “prude,” which usually hinders the Dutch from speaking up, as Asscher claims.

The Netherlands might soon witness the implementation of a new prostitution policy, which recently passed to the first chamber and aims at reducing human trafficking in prostitution.

This policy introduces mandatory registration of prostitutes by means of active intervention in the field.

Practically, this translates into inspectors conducting interviews with sex workers in the scene in order to uncover cases working under coercion.

It remains elusive how exactly the labor-backed PVDA’s Asscher imagines these neatly planned searches to work out in practice.

It seems more probable that a frightened and intimidated girl who is coerced into selling her body on a daily basis by means of force and violence will not uncover her personal situation to some governmental puppet that appears in front of her window.

She is terrified by possible consequences, rather than seeing it as an opportunity.

Coercive measures have repeatedly shown to push women into the outskirts of cities and governmental grip. They disappear into illegality.

It is open to the imagination what this means to the safety of these individuals and their personal state of health.

The prostitution market had to adapt to a variety of situations over the long span of its existence and it usually did so ‘effectively’.

However, this does not mean that we close our eyes to the situation and treat prostitution under a banner of “freedom, happiness and tolerance”, as Asscher charges.

It should not and does not imply that nothing can be done about the terribly inhumane situation apparent in this case.

What is needed is the creation of trust on the side of all sex workers – the voluntary and the coerced.

This cannot be achieved by means of mandatory measures and superficial screenings.

Long-term involvement in the field that focuses on each individual is required to create a basis of interaction that encourages women to confide into governmental authorities.

It is obvious that these measures require deeper digging into the governmental pocket, yet this type of spending should not be a waste.

But Asscher also has future plans – plans that actually amend well with his previous intentions of ‘cleaning up’ Amsterdam’s red light district.

If the policy gets implemented and turns out ineffective, he considers the only possibility that remains being the (re)-criminalization of prostitution – more specifically the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services, thereby decreasing the demand and ultimately supply.

This model was implemented in Sweden in Jan. 1999 and engendered international debate.

Comparing Sweden and the Netherlands concerning prostitution is like treating Sweden as apples and the Netherlands as ‘oranjes’.

Sweden counted approximately 2.500 prostitutes for 8.5 million inhabitants, while the Netherlands compared with 25.000 and 16.7 million inhabitants in 2001. We talk about situations with differing weights of magnitude.

Despite the fact that the Swedish model is said to be effective officially – it has achieved a ‘change in mentality’ according to Asscher – research suggests that Swedish prostitutes and clients have found less visible ways of getting into contact.

One probably creates a two-tier system, with one tier being out of any possible scope, even for tentative reaching out by specialized help-groups and contact points.

It is these that should receive more governmental funding and that should be heavily involved in the plans that Asscher wants to implement.

Here’s to hope that the policy shift is still open to amendment.

 

 

 

 

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