9 Signs of forced prostitution
Poster with the text 'looks can be deceiving' 
Recently the GGD (Dutch government health organisation) launched the news that they are going to do a research about prostitution. For their research they are looking for clients of prostitutes who are willing to fill in a form with questions about their experiences (link can be found here). Some of the questions however are about being able to spot if a prostitute is forced. I was curious about what things they would come up with, since in my experience it's virtually impossible to spot this for a client. What came up shocked me, a list of things that could really apply to any prostitute, forced or not, and gives no indication as to whether a girl is forced or not.
So I went searching for what other organisation had listed as signs of forced prostitution, and to my surprise the list was virtually every the same. Stopmensenhandel.nl (Stop Human Trafficking), Meld Misdaad Anoniem (Anonymous crime reporting) and various other Government sources and rescue organisations had a similar list of signs. There was even a whole campaign about it from Meld Misdaad Anoniem, the Dutch government their anonymous crime reporting organisation that went like this:


A video from the Government's organisation Meld Misdaad Anoniem

The video states the text:
"Forced into prostitution... Do you recognize the signals? Scared, bruises, no fun in her job. Call 0800-7000"
So I thought it would be important to share with you why these 'so called' signs could apply on almost any prostitute. So let's start with the first one:

1. Prostitute makes a tense, worked up or scarred impression.
At first this may sounds plausible perhaps to many people, but I'll explain why this is not the case. Prostitutes are just like people, in fact we are people as well. And just like normal people, we have emotions as well. We are not always happy, we also have bad days, and sometimes our work is also shit which means we can also be tense or worked up about things. Since our job consists out of working with many different kind of people, from normal people to weird people, from friendly looking people to scary looking people, we can also react in different ways to people. A lot of times I get clients who in the beginning look kinda scary to me, but end up being very nice people (and occasionally not so nice). So yes, I also get scared sometimes by the clients that go to me. That's not weird, it's only natural.
So yes, prostitutes also can be tense, worked up or scarred about things, just like every other person in this world. We do a job that does bring some risks, and therefore we are more careful, and perhaps even a little bit too cautious about who we take in. This could result in the fact that we come over as scared, which in our job is not uncommon.
A prostitute looking tense, worked up or scared doesn't mean automatically that she's forced or exploited, but nearly that we are humans as well and that we have emotions just like everybody else.

2. A Prostitute has marks of physical violence, like bruises or sometimes remarkable tattoos or brand marks.
Let me first of all ask you, how can someone see if a bruise is from physical violence? The answer is simple, unless you are a CSI expert you can't see that. Prostitutes are just like regular people, we live, and therefore we also fall sometimes. Prostitutes can break their legs, just like normal people, but that doesn't mean a prostitute is forced. And prostitutes can get bruises, just like regular people do, from bumping into stuff, that doesn't make us forced either. In fact, I know girls that do martial arts sports, and they regularly have bruises from that, that doesn't make them forced!
And than the old myth of the tattoos. How many people outside of prostitution have a tattoo? In fact, are there still any people left that don't have a tattoo yet? So many people these days have tattoos, from small to large, symbols, flowers, names. So what would be considered a remarkable tattoo?
When I made my tattoo, with the tattoo artist working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, I pointed out which tattoo I wanted. It was a lotus flower. The tattoo artist asked me if I was sure I wanted to have that tattoo. I said yes. Again he asked me if I was sure, and tried to convince me to take another tattoo. Eventually I decided to change my mind, and choose another tattoo. I didn't know what this was all about, but he said to me: ' you'll find out one day why I'm asking you this.' A couple of months later the police came to my door at work to check my papers. When they saw the tattoo, they looked at at carefully for a moment, and than said to me: ' Oh, for a moment I thought that was a lotus flower.' When I asked them what was up with the lotus flower, they explained to me that it was very suspicious that a lot of girls have a tattoo of a lotus flower, because according to them that was a sign of being forced. Funny enough, I know many girls who have a tattoo of a lotus flower, some of my best friends do, girls I've lived with, know extremely well. They are not forced. So I thought it's very weird the police sees the lotus flower as a sign of being forced, since there are many girls who have a tattoo like that, and they are definitely not forced. Many of them actually already had the tattoo way before they even started working in prostitution.
That a prostitute has bruises, or a tattoo, doesn't make her forced, just as much as an accountant having a bruise from bumping in to something isn't forced to do his job, or a biker isn't forced to drive his bike because he has a tattoo.

3. Has clearly no fun in her job, in other words: is hardly not or not capable of ' playing the game' 
This goes back a little bit to the first point I made, about that we prostitutes also have emotions. Just like normal people, we can't always smile. Especially if the work is not so good for a period, we can even be very grumpy, just like how everybody would get a bit grumpy if their work wasn't going so good for a period. With ' playing the game' they obviously mean smiling and being happy to the customers, since that's the game apparently we have to play all the time. But nobody simply can be happy 24/7 at their work, and smile all day, all night long. And why should we? Do we have to smile to every idiot that walks by our windows? Remember, we can pick out our own customers. I don't smile to people I don't want as a customer. I only smile to someone when I do want them as a customer, and since a lot of girls pass on a lot of people passing by, this means a lot of girls don't smile to people and even customers, if they don't want that person to be their customer.
And even if that person does come in to be a customer. That doesn't mean I have to keep smiling to him, like I'm some kind of idiot. I also have feelings and emotions, and I just want to do my job. If I don't want to smile to my customer, that's my problem, and not because I'm forced or something like that. And that goes the same for most of the girls I know.
And there's another thing. With many of my customers I'm nice, I smile to them, I try to treat them nice. But when you tell them they can't do things I don't want to do, and they keep pushing for it, than indeed I can also become unfriendly, and if I have to, even aggressive. It's my body, and my work, and I decide what happens inside the room. If I don't want to do something, it's not going to happen. And yes, sometimes that means I will not ' play the game' anymore with them. Not because I'm forced, or don't like to do this job, but because I don't like how those people are treating me.

4. Cannot move freely, cannot go alone on the street, there's always someone with her.
This is an interesting one, since how can a client see if a girl stands behind a window, if she cannot move freely and cannot go alone in the street? Are they supposed to keep waiting all night long, until a girl goes home, and than follow her like some sort of stalker, to check if she's with someone or not?
And let's be honest, the Red Light District in Amsterdam, is not the safest part of town. I know a lot of girls that are scared to walk alone in that area. So what happens often, is that their boyfriend comes to pick them up. That doesn't mean her boyfriend, or sometimes even husband, is forcing them, but simply that he wants to protect her and make her feel safe.
Should all prostitutes now choose to walk alone in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, which is filled with pickpockets, Moroccan people trying to steal you, drugs dealers on the street, just to prove we're not forced, with the chance of getting robbed, beaten or even abused? There are many Moroccan people out there in those nights, who know the prostitutes make a lot of money, and are just waiting for you to go home. Often (80% of the time) I get followed by some Moroccan asshole, hoping he can steal me, or even worse. And it wouldn't be the first time that a girl would get beat up and end up in the hospital because of these guys.
I go home alone, because my boyfriend works in the day, and he needs to sleep. I live close to the Red Light District, so I'm quick home, and it's not so much a problem. But there are many girls who don't live as close by like me, and they still have to get home in the middle of the night. Some girls therefore choose to stay there all night, until the early morning (which of course would also been seen again as a sign of being forced), but most of the girls have someone picking them up to bring them home, for safety.
Of course these girls could also choose to get a taxi (public transport doesn't go in the middle of the night). But why should you pay 20 or 30 euro's for a taxi, when your boyfriend or husband can pick you up with a car for free, and make sure you get home safe? Let's be honest, how many guys out there, would let their own girlfriend out alone in the Red Light District in Amsterdam in the middle of the night?

5. Works for an extremely low price
To be honest, I don't know many girls that work for a low price. The office (exploitant), sets a minimum price that the girls have to stick to. If they don't stick to the minimum price, they can get kicked out of their room by the office. This is to prevent a competition for the price under the girls themselves. There's an interesting debate going on, among prostitutes themselves, about other girls working under the minimum price. Often this revolves around Dutch girls and Eastern European girls complaining about each other that they work under the minimum price. In my opinion this is not so much about the price, as it is about jealousy. One group is simply jealous about the other group, because they work more. Also girls that have a personal vendetta with another girl, will often accuse the other girl of working under the minimum price, as a stab in the back and hoping the office will kick her out.
One thing is really funny though. If there are really so many prostitutes, either Dutch or Eastern European girls, working for under the minimum price as they always claim. Than why do I get so many times people asking for 30 or 40 euro's, which I refuse, and than I see them walking around all night, trying to find a girl who is willing to work for under the minimum price of 50 euro's? Especially since those guys repeatedly come back to me asking if I really don't want to take them in for 30-40 euro's? It should be easy for them to find a girl who would be willing to do that, right? Since there are so many girls that do that, as people claim. So than why do they walk around all night long, if there are so many girls that do that?
But I'm sure some girls work for under the minimum price, I've experienced it myself, one time with a girl from Eastern Europe, and one time with a Dutch girl. So in my opinion it happens with both Dutch and Eastern European girls. The myth that mostly Eastern European girls work under the minimum price I cannot verify. I know many of them, and don't know any girl who does that at this moment. I'm not saying there never where, but simply that it is not bound to where the girls is from, it happens on both sides, though these are rather exceptions than majority.
But that a girl works for under the minimum price would be forced, I cannot say that. The few girls I've experienced working for under the minimum price where certainly not forced. I think it has much more to do with the fact that some girls don't make much to almost no money at some point, and that therefore they are willing to work for less in order to make some money at least. Personally I think this is stupid, but obviously not every girl thinks like me. The girls that do this, often have a bad period at work financially, and therefore are willing to drop the price, in order to stay financially healthy. This is not so much about being forced, as it is about survival.
And also, let's think about it. Girls that are forced always make a lot of money according to court cases and many stories out their, since their pimp demands this. So why would they work for less money, which would only bring them home less money for their pimp? It doesn't make any sense. These girls would be focused one maximizing their income, by taking in everyone for at least the minimum price, and not for less, since than they would get in trouble about how much they make. Plus, on top of that, if the forced girls would do this, they have a big chance of loosing their room, which they certainly don't want to do, since this would create a problem with their pimp who would get angry with them.

6. Speaks only her own language. No Dutch, German or English
This is a funny one, since when I first came here, I also didn't know any Dutch, German or English. In fact, many girls that come here in the beginning, don't speak Dutch, German or English, since they didn't get it in school. In Romania for instance, people where taught for a long time French, and not English. My mother only learned Russian in her school. And let's be honest, most French people also don't speak a word of English, German or Dutch, does that make every French person forced because of that?
I quickly picked up on it, since you're kinda forced to learn it when you do this job, as do all the other girls. How else are you going to explain how much the price is, what you offer, and what you don't want to do?
The reason why many girls don't speak Dutch, English or German, is simply because they didn't get (much of) it in school. But in reality you'll find out that most girls actually do speak at least English, since without English you can't even ask for a room from the office. You learn English as you go, and quickly pick up on it. But in my experience, there are many girls that speak (enough) English for a small conversation. It's not perfect, but enough for the work.
And why would only forced girls not speak English, Dutch or French? Do they have a monopoly on not having it in school? Did they get picked out in school already to be forced? And let's be honest, I also didn't speak English when I first came here, but I learned it by talking to my customers. So can the forced girls learn English, just like me.

7. Has no place to live, sleeps at work
This one is just laughable. First of all, you can't sleep at your work, since the office isn't open 24/7. You will find no girl in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, living at her workplace. It's simply impossible. The offices close between 3 and 6 'o clock (depend for which office you work), and get cleaned every day by a cleaner. On top of that, isn't the story of forced prostitutes always that they can never leave the house, and the pimp beats them in the house, and counts his money there?
It's true that many prostitutes have trouble to find a place to live. Often girls will live together, which again the police sees as a sign of human trafficking. This is not the case however. The reason is much simpler. The reason many girls live together, is because they have trouble to find an apartment. This is because many landlords are very hesitant to rent out apartments to prostitutes, because of the stigma that we have.
Also I have trouble every time to find an apartment. Last time I had been looking for an apartment for 6 monthst, and every single time I was refused as soon as they heard what my job was. One time even a landlord got into a discussion with me, saying he wouldn't give me the apartment because he was afraid I would bring clients into the apartment and basically work home. These people are such idiots. There's a reason I work in the Red Light District and not home, because I want to keep my work separated from my private life. If I wanted to take clients home, I wouldn't need to rent a room from my office for 150 euro a day, and could save a lot of money with that!
I also lived together with other prostitutes, not because I was forced, but because we have trouble getting apartments. The apartments we often do get, are from people that don't mind having a prostitute in their apartment, which is usually because of one very simple reason, which is because the apartment is shit! The previous apartment I lived in cost me 1500 euro's a month (all incl.) and it was a disgusting place, filled with mouse (around 20 of them running around), dirty, the wash machine didn't work, the sink was broke etc. But since it's hard to find a place at all, I was already happy that I got a place.
And how come the police always thinks that more girls living in one place is a sign of being forced? How many students live together in one place? Let's be honest. I came here into this country, to work for myself. After I finished paying off the people that helped and invested in me to come here, I was on my own. I didn't speak Dutch, just a little bit of English, I don't have any friends or family here, I was all alone. If you had to choose between living all alone in a country you don't know, or you could live with someone else you can talk to, what would you pick? Plus, on top of all, you can split the rent, which would not only make it more pleasant to live with someone you can talk to, but also cheaper to live with.
I lived one year alone here in Amsterdam. I paid 1500 euro, and was lonely. I didn't have anyone to talk to, nobody to do something with, and had to pay the 1500 all by myself. If I could pick between that, or living together with someone else who also does this job, and therefore understands me, someone I can talk with, and someone I can split the 1500 euro rent with, they choice is easy.
And let's not forget the fact, that many times there are groups of girls coming here to work in prostitution. They are a group of girls that are friends, and therefore share one apartment, because they are friends, it's cheaper and they don't have to be lonely.
But sleeping at work? No, that's not even possible! And on top of that, how are customers supposed to know where I sleep? Do they have to follow me around, like a stalker, wait until I finish work, to see where I sleep? I don't want my clients to know where I live! I have my privacy as well!

8. Doesn't know on which address she works
Let's be honest, Dutch is a very difficult language. In fact, it's the second most difficult language in world, after Chinese. Most street names are very long, and very difficult to pronounce of foreign people. While most prostitutes do know which address they work at (at hookers.nl they where surprised to hear the girls know this), I can imagine that for some girls it's very difficult to remember the name of the address. Street names like Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Sint Annedwarsstraat, Dolbegijnensteeg and Oude Kennissteeg, they're not very easy to pronounce for foreign people.
In fact, I lived for more than a year at an address of which I now still can't pronounce the name, since it's so damn long and complex. The fact that some girls don't know what address they work at, doesn't prove their forced, it just proves that Dutch is a damn hard language to learn.

9. Looks unhealthy
How does someone look unhealthy? Is that defined by how fat or skinny they are? Is it defined by how much they take care of their own personal hygiene? Is it defined by looking like a person with AIDS? This sign is depending on how the person reading it, defines looking unhealthy. The only people who can tell you what they mean with this statement, are the people that came up with this sign.
Let me ask you people another question. How many of you, would have sex with someone that looks unhealthy? Would you? I don't think so. And why not? Because you don't want to have sex with someone that looks unhealthy, you don't want to risk your own health, plus it's not attractive. And let's be honest, why would a pimp force a girl into prostitution, who looks unhealthy? It would be better for him to pick someone that looks healthy and would make a lot of money, than someone that looks unhealthy that nobody wants to fuck. Because simply nobody would go to a prostitute that looks unhealthy.
This is again one of those myths, that prostitutes are unhealthy, full of scary deceases like HIV, AIDS and other STD's. This is bullshit. The prostitutes in the Amsterdam Red Light District get regularly a health check up from the PG292. A lot of girls are very skinny, since that's the demand a lot of men have, but also simply because a lot of girls are just very skinny because they can't gain anymore weight. I know girls that look even skinnier than me, yet they eat 4-5 times a day french fries and other fastfood, and they just don't get any fatter. I also get a lot of people asking me why I'm so skinny, and the truth is, I really don't know. I eat a lot of fastfood, pizza, McDonalds, KFC etc. And I like to look skinny, I don't want to become a fat person.
This sign is truly bullshit, since it leaves up the definition of 'unhealthy' to the person spotting it. They don't define what is unhealthy according to them, which means it could really be used in any way you want to.

As you can see, the list of signs of forced prostitution, is a list that just shows how bad the organisations are informed about prostitution. It just proves how little they know about our world, and our job. They are signs that could either apply to anyone, or could never even happen. It worries me to see that organisations give such bad advice to our clients and other people, and inform them so badly about our job. Truth is, a customer really can't see if a girl is forced. Even organisations themselves can't tell the difference between forced and non-forced prostitution, just like the police can't spot the difference, than how could a client ever be able to?!
Many customers ask me if I'm forced, and even after I tell them that I'm not forced, they still won't believe me. I don't understand these people, they ask me thousands of questions to find out if I'm forced or not, and when I tell them the truth, than they still won't believe me. Than why the fuck do you ask these questions, if you're not gonna believe my answer anyway?
There are plenty of customers out there that are looking out for girls who could possibly be forced. But there are also many customers out there who just come in, pay for what they want, and want to go out without any trouble. They don't want to ask us a thousand questions to check out if we're forced or not, and this is also a ridiculous idea, since a client could never find it out anyway if a girls is really forced.
If organisations (that are specialized in this), and the police even can't get it straight, than why do you demand clients to able to?

Dutch version
4 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I've just had a look at the survey - and I completed most of it. I avoided the questions which asked for personal information (occupation, age, income, etc.). It is possible to indicate (through answers) that the proposed "signs" are not at all conclusive. And maybe your readers should be encouraged to complete the questionnaire in order to make that point.

    There is also scope at the end for respondents to make a statement. That was a relief because the questionnaire looks like it's been designed to manipulate the people who complete it - and that's probably the most important part.

    Here's what I said:

    I assume that you are joking about the lottery, and subsequent need to give you my name and address so that you can send me the €75!!!

    The question which bothers me most is the one about providing customer information about abuse.

    The indications are that interventions by the authorities/politicians are rarely in the best interests of the prostitutes and the narrative of exploitation repeatedly supported by misinformation, exaggerated statistics, false statistics, wild speculation, prejudiced assertion, inadequate research and a total inability to engage with the majority of prostitutes while pursuing a moral agenda (and while listening to bogus claims made by, for example, journalists masquerading as prostitutes - note recent government interventions) makes this exercise highly suspect. The questions on spotting abuse are clearly stereotypical inventions of people with too much imagination and too little insight. Until the authorities stop conflating prostitution and economic migration with forced human trafficking, credibility is very low indeed.

    The indications are that you will use this survey to make more wild claims, eg: "Even the men who visit prostitutes think that a woman who does not smile all the time might have been forced by gangsters or loverboys and since half the women in De Wallen didn't smile today as our researcher passed their windows we can assume that they are definitely victims of abuse (even the clients think so)..... etc., etc.;clearly, forced prostitution is of epidemic proportions - which gives licence for punitive measures which undermine the Human Rights of the very women we claim to be protecting.

    If you are really concerned about the welfare of the women in Amsterdam's sex industry I suggest that a better approach would be to engage in a thorough and ongoing dialogue with Amsterdam's prostitutes - and lots of them. I appreciate that's difficult. Why? Because they don't trust you enough to talk to you. Why? Because the authorities have proven over and over again that they are not be trusted.

    Forget the questionnaire. Invest in trust!


  2. As a sexworker I often get bruises from rough sex. But then, rough sex is not neccessarrily non consensual. I like BDSM elements, also in private costellations.

    And sometimes I do sleep at my working place. I'm an escort often working in 5* hotel appartements and overnights are part of my sexual service.


  3. Dear Felicia Anna,

    As promised my comment. I've read your blog and I want to say you have my full support and give you my compliments for your good-to-excellent articles. You know me from the comments of the Zondares blog http://zondares.blogspot.nl/
    For your readers I want to explain that I'm a client of prostitutes or, as I'd rather say so I hope you don't mind, hookers. I have chosen to make this personal part of my life public, because the prostitution is attacked and I want to stand up against that. I was already an activist about other things like against the surveillance-state but now I've chosen to concentrate my efforts on the struggle for the freedom for prostitution. This is much more personal than the things I've done before. I hope to write an article about my personal experience about 'being a client' but its still a struggle to get it right, because for me its a complicated story. So I will not get into that now.

    I do want to say that (because the windows in Utrecht where I live are closed) I have been to the Wallen and had a very good experience with your collegue ... But when I came back for her later she wasn't there. I think it would be better for me to try the internet to find someone here but for me phone communication is an obstacle. I tried though but I had a miscommunication and it didn't work out and I didn't dare to try again. So I don't know what I'll do, but you might see me walking by your window. I understand making contact at the window a bit I think. I didn't have the best experience with the ladies who made great effort trying to get me in, (even though they were obviously motivated,) but I have great experiences with ladies with whom I closed the deal with subtle eye-contact and very small gestures.

    I don't think I will become a regular guest at your blog for two reasons: -1- too much work, especially in english, -2- I hope you get many of your collegues as your readers. It seems like you focus mainly on the Dutch public opinion. Of course thats also very important and it is not up to me to tell you what to do. Maybe you and your collegues at the Wallen have enough contact to give each other information and support. But I'm afraid that 'out there' too much of your collegues are isolated and uninformed. So I hope they will find your blog and then maybe its not helpfull if the comments are already filled by clients with big mouths. (I notice at Zondares that clients have much bigger mouths then the hookers, maybe because men have bigger mouths then women in general?)

    Very good to hear that you are working with Mariska and Metje. If I can do something to support you, you know where to find me.

    Best greetings and good luck, Wessel.


    ps. Thanks for the twit
    pps. v.Doorninck mailed she would contact you.
    ppps. A little point of critic about your other article:
    You claim that in the illegal sector "much more forced prostitution is happening". I believe you do not know that for a fact. you only know that at the Wallen its almost impossible but that doesn't mean that it happens elsewhere. I believe the 'illegal' sector is also clean enough. Don't be played out against your collegues there, you also might lose your window/room one day. See Zondares new article: http://zondares.blogspot.nl/2014/05/antwoord-op-in-de-illegale-prostitutie.html


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    Romanian prostitute working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam (De Wallen), speaking out for the truth behind prostitution. Blogging about prostitution, human trafficking, forced prostitution, politics and all the myths surrounding it. Member of PROUD, the Dutch union of sex workers.