Why prostitutes don't talk
There's a lot of discussion on prostitution. Online, in the media, politicians, everywhere people are having discussions on prostitution. The talks generally are about what's best for the prostitutes. Some claim that making prostitution illegal is the answer, some claim that making the clients of prostitution illegal is the answer (taking away the demand as it where), and of course lot's of discussion about whether or not prostitutes are forced or not.
What's interesting is that both sides always claim things, but rarely ever talk with prostitutes themselves. And why is that? How is it possible that in a discussion about a group of people, the group of people that are being discussed is not present? Is it because they're scarred of their pimp, as so many people suggest, or is it something else?

The answer to this question is actually quite simple. Most of the girls working in the Red Light District are foreign. Most of them are Eastern European (Romanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian), some Asian, some South American and than some Dutch girls and the rest. And because such a large part of the prostitutes aren't from Holland, and don't speak the Dutch language, they simply don't know that this discussion is happening in the first place. And how can people enter a discussion if they don't know it's there?
Also the city government of Amsterdam hasn't approached prostitutes with their plans or ideas, or even with a reason why they close down the windows. All the prostitutes know, is that from one day to the next some windows are gone, and they're left surprised with the questions as to why this happened.

I don't think it's by chance the city government of Amsterdam hasn't informed prostitutes about what's going on in politics. I think it's part of their agenda, after all, how can you claim things about people, if those people can talk back themselves and deny things you're claiming, right? Well, that's exactly what's happening here in Amsterdam. They've said the Red Light District in Amsterdam is filled with crime, like money laundering and human trafficking, and that they wanted to get rid of those companies who are criminal. What happened was that they closed down a lot of windows stating it was 'to fight human trafficking and forced prostitution'.
The city government for years has claimed that 'more than half of the prostitutes are forced'. A very interesting claim, especially since they never did any research on it themselves. In stead they relied on a report from the police, which only talked to two prostitutes(!) who both just happened to be victims of human trafficking (read more about that here).

Fact of course is, that it's impossible that more than half of the prostitutes are forced. It's not true at all, and they know it, they just needed an excuse to close down those windows for something else.
But of course making claims like these only works if there's nobody else to prove it's not true (or at least very few). And that's why they decided not to inform the prostitutes in their own language about these claims, but in stead leave them in the dark, until they could close down the windows they wanted to close. And it worked, because almost nobody protested against it, and the few that did where easily silenced with either a slander campaign (protecting their own interest) or by simply ignoring them.

In fact, most girls in the Red Light District are still unaware of the claims people make about them, and the plans of the city government to close down more windows. I tried a couple of times to convince some of my colleagues this is what is happening, but they looked at me like I was crazy. They've never even heard of it, let alone they will protest against it.
And to be honest, if it wasn't for my boyfriend, I would be in the same situation, and I probably also wouldn't believe people if they told me these things. That's why most prostitutes their reactions are so surprised, and filled with disbelieve, when they find out their windows are being closed.

A very good example of that was recently in Utrecht, where last year the city government of Utrecht used the similar tactics to close down all the windows over there, leaving 300 women without a (safe) place to work. Their actions to safe their windows from being closed came too late, and many prostitutes where angry and didn't understand why the windows had to close down.
It's much easier to fight something, if there's nobody to fight back. And that's exactly what's happening with prostitution in Amsterdam. The city government intentionally did not inform the prostitutes about the claims they where making about them, and did not inform them about their plans, until it's too late to protest.
They are also relying on the fact that prostitutes are reluctant to protest, since they're identity could be exposed, which is everything for most prostitutes.

And this brings us to the second reason prostitutes don't talk. Prostitution is still not socially accepted as a job (even though it's the oldest job in the world). And because it's still not socially accepted, most girls hide it from their families and friends. And so, to protect their families and friends from finding out about their job, prostitutes rely on the secrecy around their identity.
Many girls are scared to talk with the media, for the very simply reason of being scared to be exposed to their family or friends. It's happened before a few times that a prostitute was willing to talk with people from the media, and they promised the girls their identity would be safe with them. Afterwards however they where clearly visible on TV for everyone to recognize. Fear of being exposed by the media, has caused the girls to be very camera shy, and not talk to people from the media, to protect their identity from their family.

On top of that, it wouldn't be the first time if a prostitute's story was twisted and turned by the media to tell a very different story than the girl told herself. By creative editing, people from the media can manipulate a story so much, it can be completely different from what you've told. Scared of their story being used by the enemies of prostitution, we prostitutes shy away from journalists and the media, who've contributed a lot to the mass hysteria that is called human trafficking.

Fortunately these days we have the internet and social media, where girls can speak for themselves without having to give up their identity. Though this of course also causes the problem of not being able to verify if a person claiming to be a prostitute is a real prostitute. Anti-prostitution people use this fact to disregard real prostitutes as fakes (as you can read here), and with that prostitutes their interest to share their stories online has been destroyed. What's the point to tell a story, when nobody's going to believe you anyway? And the only way to prove you're real, is to give up your identity, which is the last thing a prostitute wants to do.

But even with my clients I feel the same way. So many times clients ask me if I'm here by choice, or because my pimp makes me work here. I always answer honestly that I'm here by my own free choice. But even then those people still don't believe it. I always wonder what's the point to ask something, if you're not going to believe the answer anyway. It's the same reason I have shied away from speaking out for so long. What's the point to talk if nobody wants to believe you, and other people from outside the prostitution industry always know it better?

This is the reason many prostitutes don't want to talk. If they talk, people don't believe them. And if people do start to believe them, there will always be people claiming you're a fake. So what's the point? They have to risk their identity to tell people something they still won't believe in the end? And why talk to a government that doesn't want to listen, thinks they know better than us how our work and lives are like, and make up their own facts?
If people where really so interested to hear from a prostitute, than come and talk to us. If people really want to talk with us, than talk! We're not hard to find, and we don't bite (unless if that's what you're into). It's easier to find us, than for us to find you.
But if you do choose to hear from a prostitute what she has to say, than also accept the answers, and don't be ignorant and dismiss it like you know it better. Accept our words for what they are, the truth and nothing less but the truth. You don't want the truth, than don't come to talk to us like the government does, but then don't claim you're doing it in our best interest, because you're not.

Dutch version
4 Responses
  1. Ivonn Says:

    It happened to me in Hungary as well: I had an interview where I was promised to be hidden and they used some shadow but not enough so someone recognized me.
    One more reason I don't like to talk anymore: I had an other interview where the questions all suggested something bad and my answers were cut in a way that in the end I sounded completely crazy or at least someone with some mental issues (luckily at least they couldn't made another "poor broken girl" story because none of my answers suggested any regret or disgust). There was also a book written about this topic which showed a quite dark side, the whole book was just so depressing and all the girls looked like they sacrifised their happiness for money, they damage themselves with this job etc. A lot of girls were interviewed and I don't know all of them but I know myself and two other girls in the book and I just cannot imagine that the stories of most these girls were that dark originally.
    So if ever again, the next thing written about me will be written by me:P.


  2. Frans Says:

    Nice! Thank you, Felicia Anna!!

    Some thoughts: The fundamental reason why a woman doesn’t talk about being professionally a prostitute is the same why her clients don’t talk about their experience with her: (1) sharing sexual experiences is not done, and (2) admitting a deviation from the strict “one-and-the-same sex partner” standard is not done either and socially too risky.

    I think, the heart of the matter here is that people, ALL people, ALL of us, mankind, are uncomfortable talking about being sexual animals and the sexual experiences we have. When was the last time you heard someone telling another in public casually, "Gosh, I just come from great sex with this dear friend. I discovered that she (or he) had the talent to make a fantasy work I didn’t realize I had! I'm really happy!"
    Or: "Last night’s sex was disappointing, we both couldn’t get into it for some reason."
    Or: :I think it’s time to try sex with someone else. Sex has so many aspects, I should try to get myself to another level with it."
    Wouldn’t that be great!

    We constantly share stories about being with this or that friend or partner about going shopping, going for a walk, having lunch or a drink, going to a movie, cooking together, and whatever we do together.
    How come we don’t share a get-together with someone that involved hard core sex or soft core eroticism? Why are we hiding those experience we have and find so important? WHAT ARE WE HIDING, really??? And why does society encourage this personal secrecy while it sells sex in every other context like nothing else?

    We know that being a sexual animal and having sex is a normal human condition, but commonly find that talking about this personal sex life of our's is a-normal and rather embarrassing. How unfortunate!

    Logically, it’s even worse for a person who - as daily work - is committed to playing “being sexual”, and is being paid for playing the role of whore - like an actress, with a stage name, stage, costume, script with beginning and end, language, dialogue, improvisation, etcetera.
    When work is over, that woman changes clothes and shoes, removes make-up (and wig), turns off the lights and goes home, not as Felicia Anna or Jessica but, let’s say, as Maria or Corine, as the woman with her given name.

    The problem people in general have with prostitution seems to boil down to the fact that they identify so closely with their personal sexual nature and their own embarrassment with being sexual, that they confuse their own “being sexual” with what a prostitute at work does routinely and professionally, namely “p-l-a-y-i-n-g sexual”, which simply is playing for a while an interactive role with and for the client, for his immediate entertainment and benefit only, and nothing else.
    I think it’s the warped, misguided self-identification and embarrassment with one’s own sexual being that causes this condemnation, stigmatization and rejection of prostitutes and other types of sex workers. It’s too close for comfort.

    I once asked American former sought-after long-time prostitute and porn actress, Annie Sprinkle, what she thought the purpose of prostitution was. She said: "Helping people overcome their sexual embarrassment."
    For a prostitute this implies that she, like any professional actress, must become known as X (her given name) who professionally is the prostitute known as Y (her role name).
    And of course, X should be really proud because of this important contribution to anyone who pays for her work as Y.
    When all is said and done, the work of a prostitute mixes entertainment, acting, physical therapy and psychotherapy. It requires talent and love for people in general. It's never the same and therefore challenging and fun. And because it has so many aspects to it (like any outspoken "people" profession), it's not necessarily limited to age.
    Frans van Rossum


  3. Felicia Anna Says:

    @Ivonn
    A very good comment, and this explains exactly why prostitutes are so reluctant to talk. You can't trust anyone in this business besides yourself.

    @Frans
    I couldn't have said that any better myself. The problem with prostitution being accepted as a job lies not so much within the industry, as it does with people their own shame on sexuality.

    I get so many customers who are so insecure sexually, and I see it as my job to help them with that. One of my old customers was 29, and he never had a girlfriend before. I provide for these people an experience, not only on a physical level, but also on a mental level.
    And the best thing about my old 29 y/o customer, is that after being my customer for a while, he became confident enough with himself, and finally ended up with a girlfriend. That's the service I provide, and I am really so happy for him.


  4. writer2010 Says:

    As usual, an incisive analysis and recognisable - I accept everything that you say. However, in the interests of completeness there are a couple of things that might be added.

    Not all of the women who work in the red light district are unaware of what is happening but they indicate an unwillingness to engage on a political level.

    The gentrification programme has been plodding forward for a few years (since 2007) and it took a while for there to be visible progress. During that formative period it wasn't unusual to hear the following sentiment: "They wouldn't dare to damage the rld because it is economically too important (to hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, etc). So I'm not too concerned." One even heard, "Oh, yes, they were going to do that but they stopped."

    Last year, the age of consent was raised from 18 - 21. During the discussion stage, one heard the sentiment: "I'm 21, I'm OK, it doesn't concern me." I can understand this, especially if one wants to keep beneath the radar (of the press, police and government) but it's unhealthy. Next time it might affect them and by then it may be too late to protest.

    Like a lot of clients, I often ask the girls for their take on trafficking (and often they offer a view without being asked). And it's not uncommon to be assured that trafficking does take place and a lot of it.

    When challenged on this, the claim is frequently modified to, "Boyfriends put pressure on their girlfriends." A suggestion that what we are dealing with here then transforms into a resentment that boyfriends are visibly benefiting financially.

    It's as though some of the girls have absorbed and digested the propaganda from the rescue industry (something which researchers discovered when they investigated (and dismissed) the loverboy phenomenon back in 2004 (Wilhem Pomp Institute, Department of Criminology).

    It's interesting that these window girls are always adamant that it hasn't happened to them and couldn't happen to them. One wonders if they are using trafficking as a marketing tool: "Much better to come back to me than to risk running across a trafficked woman!"

    Finally (and I have only heard this once), there is a recognition that actually the authorities have a difficult task in reconciling a lot of disparate interests. "So, yes, sometimes they do things which adversely affects us."

    I've not made any of these observations with a view to undermining your central argument, which is solid, but rather with a view to understanding the motivation, actions and lack of actions of the women who work in the red light district. It could be that some of your readers have different examples.

    The numbers of women working in the rld (the three districts) are relatively small. What I don't understand is why a handful of window girls (2 - 3) couldn't get the voice of the majority heard. For example, when the age of consent was raised, there were public letters to the press from academics and social workers, etc., etc., Not everyone is against prostitution. Surely there was scope for a petition from the window girls themselves. Appearing on TV or being photographed by the press is one thing, but a petition seems harmless and can be directed at politicians, After all, all of the women are registered with the authorities as a precondition of being able to work at all so signing a petition which outlines a collective position doesn't jeopardize anonymity.

    The key, of course, is having that one person (on the inside) who can produce action.


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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.