The prostitution entry program
All these women want to work, but how do you get in?
We have a lot of exit programs for sex workers these days, but nobody's ever thought about a entry program for prostitution. Which is really weird, since with an entry program for prostitution you can achieve much more than with an exit program. After all, an exit program doesn't fight human trafficking itself, it just helps people that have already become a victim, so it's already happened. It's sort of mopping up the floor, while the water tap is still running. It doesn't create one less victim, it doesn't stop trafficking and it certainly doesn't prevent it.

The minister of Justice and Safety also claimed that sex workers need exit program because of the stigma (or taboo as he called it) on sex work, but the exit program doesn't fight the stigma itself, it only helps women exiting this industry deal with the stigma, while leaving the women who want to keep working in this industry with no help at all. In short, the exit program doesn't solve human trafficking or the stigma sex workers face. It helps a little bit with both, but it doesn't target the sources, meaning it never really does anything to change the situation. It doesn't stop trafficking, it doesn't prevent it, and it doesn't stop the stigma or prevent that either.

An entry program for prostitution however can achieve much more. After all, the entry point is where human trafficking first begins in prostitution, and thus the most logical place to attack it. So, in stead of mopping up the floor with an exit program with the water tap still running, we're gonna turn down the water tap, making sure human trafficking is being prevented before it ever takes place.
Because when dealing with crimes you can do two things. You can try to fight it, but than it's already too late, since it already happened. Or you can try to prevent them from ever happening, in which case you only need to mop up the water that spilled, making it much easier to get that floor dry and clean.

So in order to prevent human trafficking, we need to attack the source. And fact is that the source of most human trafficking cases, is the vulnerability of sex workers. The more vulnerable a sex worker is, the easier it is for a trafficker to get control over her and exploit her for money. So the question is: how do we make sex workers less vulnerable? How do we prevent women from falling into the hands of traffickers? And to understand this, you first need to understand the reasons why women got in touch with traffickers in the first place, and why they fall for their tricks, and what those tricks exactly are.

And this is where there's a huge misconception. Because most people believe that most victims are coerced into prostitution, while in reality this is only a small portion of the trafficking victims. This is a misconception brought forward by people and organisations who are either against prostitution itself, or because they benefit from telling these stories in one way or another. After all, if you can claim that most women didn't want to do a certain job because they were forced into it, you could claim that it shouldn't be legal, because nobody wants to do it. And this is exactly the claim they've been trying to make for years.

But reality is that victims of coercion are just a very small part of all the human trafficking cases that occur in the prostitution industry. In other words, most human trafficking cases that occur, are cases in which the sex worker herself agreed on working in prostitution, but after that gets stuck in a position in which she becomes exploited by traffickers. And this does not just come from my personal observations, but more importantly from attorneys specialized in human trafficking cases. They also claim that by far, the most cases they get, revolve around exploitation and not coercion. And this just confirmed my personal experiences. But more importantly, it also explains why victims often don't see themselves as victims, since they are not coerced into anything, which is how often the media portrays victims of trafficking. 

So a small portion of the victims is being coerced, while a much larger group is not being coerced, but simply being exploited, despite the fact that they choose themselves to do this job. Nobody is forcing these women to work in prostitution, in fact, they choose it to do themselves, often because it simply pays good money. So how do these women end up being exploited? Well, because entering the prostitution industry in Holland, especially coming from another country, is so difficult (because policy makers believe it helps to fight trafficking), so they require assistance, which is exactly the point where the traffickers come into the story.

These traffickers basically play the role of the helping hand. Acting almost as an unemployment agency, helping sex workers out with paperwork, travelling arrangements, finances and housing. Sometimes the victims don't know the traffickers are really interested in exploiting them and are being deceived, but interestingly more often the sex workers themselves agree with it.
And this sounds kind of strange to outsiders. After all, why would a sex worker agree with being exploited? Who would want that? Well, fact is that nobody wants that, but they don't have much of a choice, since there isn't an alternative. After all, there is no legal organisation in Holland which helps these women with the problems they're facing when entering the prostitution business. In fact, the Dutch law even made it illegal and punishable to help anyone cross a border that wants to become a sex worker, under the human trafficking law. Under article 273f 1.3 it states that being guilty of human trafficking is:

"The person who recruits, takes along or abducts another person with the intention to make that person available in another country to carry out sexual acts with another person in exchange for payment;"

This means that anyone helping a (future) prostitute, knowing she wants to work here in prostitution, is a criminal and a human trafficker. It doesn't state anything about being coerced or exploited, simply taking someone with you is enough to be labeled a criminal when it regards a (future) sex worker.

So, we have a problem. These women need help, because they need paperwork, they don't know where to get it, how to get it. They need travel arrangements. They need a place to live, which is even difficult for Dutch sex workers, let alone if you come from another country. They need financial help before things are set up (since banks refuse sex workers loans, mortgages and even business accounts), and they can finally start with their own business (sex workers behind the windows are independent business owners). So a lot of help is needed.
But since the Dutch government thought they would fight human trafficking better if they would make it more difficult to enter prostitution as a whole, with the assumption that no right minded woman would want to do this job, they created a huge problem. And this problem is right now being solved by human traffickers. After all, these women need help to get into the prostitution, where they want to work to make a lot of money. But nobody wants to help them, because they would be considered a criminal by the Dutch human trafficking law.

And this is where the traffickers come into play. They gladly take on the role of an unemployment agency, in exchange for a big cut of the salary of sex workers. The sex workers are glad that someone is helping them, and the traffickers demand for that a portion of their income. And since the sex workers don't receive any help from others or the government, they are willing to give these people a portion of their income, with as a result that the sex workers is agreeing on her own exploitation. Often these deals are for a large percentage of the income, usually a 50/50 deal, meaning the sex worker gets to keep 50% of her income, while the trafficker gets the other 50%. Now sometimes these percentages may vary, but this is the most used construction by traffickers. It's easier than having to force someone into doing a job they don't want to do, which creates a lot more work to keep someone under control. Plus the sex worker herself will never give you in as a trafficker, since the trafficker helped her, and not the police or the government,

Just a short note here, outside of the sex industry similar constructions exist, with people getting a percentage of what they earn for their work, and the another percentage going to someone else. These constructions are called unemployment agencies, and there are many in Holland, who legally take in a large cut of what a company pays to have someone working for them. But then all of the sudden it's legal, while in prostitution it's all of the sudden called human trafficking. Talking about using double standards! And this is simply because of the false assumption that prostitution is done something not by choice. So where the Dutch government sees these women as victims, the victims themselves do not see themselves that way. After all, they agreed on it themselves. And what else do you expect when you don't receive any help from anyone else?

And this is precisely where an entry program for prostitution would be not just very useful, but could be a powerful tool in the fight against human trafficking. The entry program for prostitution is supposed to help sex workers who want to enter the industry, and helps them doing this in a safe and legal way, thus avoiding shady people who are trying to take advantage of them and turning them into trafficking victims. But more importantly, it gives sex workers an alternative from having to agree on a deal with traffickers who are only interested in profiting from it, asking way too high prices and percentages.

The entry program should focus on giving out good information about how to safely enter the industry. It should provide good information about addresses where you have to go, papers you need to have, and where you can get these papers. It is not by accident that I wrote a while back a blog post on how to get started in window prostitution in Amsterdam. I did this after I kept getting e-mails from girls, mostly from Romania, asking how to get started. It's one of the biggest problems for women from Eastern Europe who want to do this job. There's no information!
But it's not just for women from Eastern Europe. I even got repeatedly e-mails from Dutch women, asking how to get started to work behind the windows. This only proves how difficult it is to get started, and how little information is out there!

Besides providing good information, the entry program should also offer help with finances, since often sex workers from abroad need an advance in their finances before they can finally start to make money. After all, there's a big difference in living standards between Eastern Europe and Holland. This has nothing to do with poverty, which for sure is also a reason for some women to enter this industry, but by far most of the Eastern European girls don't come here because of poverty, but simply because the huge difference in living standards. Where in Romania for example you'll get 250 euro paid for an avarage job, and you can live fine for that amount of money. In Holland this is ten times more. And thus also the prices are much higher in Holland than in Romania, making it extremely expensive for Eastern European girls to come and live here.
But this is also what attracts them. After all, the costs may be much higher over here, so is the salary of a sex worker, and much more than any other job. So it's very interesting for women from Eastern Europe to come to Holland, and do this job, since averagely they get 100 times more the salary here with this job, than they would get doing any other job in their home country.

And besides the financial part, the entry program should also help sex workers find a place to live, preferably on very short notice, so that sex workers won't have to accept help from traffickers for this who want to take advantage of them.
In short, the entry program for prostitution should play the role of an unemployment agency, just like how they do this in many other industries as well. An agency which helps foreign workers to come to this country, help them finding a place to live, giving them an advance so they have some money before they can go to work, and helping them with all the paperwork required. 
Basically this entry program would take over many of the tasks a lot of human traffickers do at this moment, but of course with the difference that they don't exploit these women, but help these women. In this way, we can take away the demand that sex workers have for help, which attract human traffickers, thus resulting in fewer women becoming a victim of these traffickers. And at the same time you're helping these women enter the industry in a safe and legal way, making sure they have all the information and resources available making them less vulnerable.

But now of course we are still stuck with one problem. After all, this entry program focuses on women that do want to entry the prostitution industry, but require help. So it would take a huge bite out of the trafficking victims which are being exploited right now in the sex industry. But, it doesn't directly deal with the (much smaller) group of trafficking victims which are coerced into prostitution. 
And that is indeed a valid point. However, if the amount of victims are being reduced heavily, targeting the largest vulnerable group of potential victims, it leaves a much smaller group of victims to target for the police. After all, the women that used to be exploited because they needed help for a large part don't exist anymore, leaving only the severe cases of coerced trafficking victims.

At this moment the police and other authorities are having huge difficulties to tell apart victims from non-victims in the sex industry. And this is because many of the women they see as victims, do not regard themselves as victims, since they choose to share a part of their income with the trafficker. While at the other hand there are also victims who are being coerced, and are in desperate need for help. But since these two different types of victims, the coerced ones and the exploited ones, look so much alike in behavior and circumstances, it's often difficult to tell for the police which is which, thus resulting in police reports with estimations that make no sense at all. They often think they're dealing with a victim of coercion, while in reality not dealing with a victim of coercion but with a sex worker that agreed on her own exploitation. For outsiders it's impossible to tell them apart, since they send out many of the same signals, while when asking an exploited sex worker if she's forced, she'll give you a very convincing answer that she's not. Which is not so weird, because she isn't being coerced.

But when the entry program for prostitution is in place, most of these exploited victims will disappear since they will be using the entry program, leaving only the heavy coerced victims. And since the contrast between coerced victims and free willing sex workers is so big, in behaviour and circumstances, it will become much easier to spot the victims. After all, the victims that were only being exploited before, have dropped out thanks to the entry program, leaving only the really severe cases of human trafficking, the coerced victims. And with less victims of exploitation to confuse them with coerced victims, it will become much easier for the police and authorities to spot these victims and help them.

The biggest problem however lies within the acceptance of sex work as work. After all, this entry program for prostitution could solve a huge portion of the human trafficking that exists in the prostitution industry. But it is because politicians and policy makers are reluctant to facilitate women entering this industry, that this problem still hasn't been solved. It is their moral opinions, which stands between accepting sex work as work, and providing good and safe way to do this, versus rejecting it and not solving the real problems of trafficking.
In one beat, we could cut human trafficking in half, taking out a large portion of the victims that are being exploited, by offering them an alternative besides having to give a portion of their salary in exchange for help. We could make it easier for the police to distinguish the difference between someone that's coerced or someone that's exploited, by preventing most of the exploitation, leaving only the coercion. But in that case politicians and policy makers would have to accept sex work as work and offer women a way into prostitution, and the real question is if they are willing to do that, in order to save lives.

So, the real question is: does the government rather want to keep buying more mops to clean the floor, or are they willing to turn down the water tap? Because in the end, the water will keep spilling over, as long as you don't close that tap, no matter how hard you mop the floor. But in the end it will never clean up until you stop the water tap. So are they prepared to set aside their judgement on sex work, to really fight human trafficking? Or are they gonna keep avoiding attacking the real problem, with fake solutions which doesn't help anyone? Sex workers need help, but not the help you'd expect, they want, but help to enter this industry, not just to exit it.

Dutch version
11 Responses
  1. Frans Says:


    You raise an issue that is long overdue and must become part of the general debate on the normalization and quality of the Dutch sex work sector.

    Such an agency would be in demand with people from many foreign countries who are attracted to doing sex work in Holland, not just from East-European countries.

    But the daily reality of such an entry agency would be complex and labor intensive. Besides helping with all the things you mention (housing, papers, etc.) it should not be only for window work or other forms of organized sex work but for all forms of licensed sex work. It would probably require people who understand the local situation of these people and speak their language fluently (which makes it expensive), it must have the trust of the normal (sex workers community (PROUD), and know the legal and illegal ins-and-outs nationwide (For instance: if you want to work at an Amsterdam window, there is a long waiting list, but there are possibilities in Alkmaar or Groningen). It should not be a free service but - ideally - a not-for profit.organisation.

    This could provide substantial work to sex workers after they stop sex work, hence another meaningful option in one of the many exit programs!

    It would be one more thing that PROUD could begin discussing and organizing, and one thing the government would be wise to support AND sponsor (but without control).

  2. Unknown Says:

    Felicia, what do you say to those who claim attempts to regulate prostitution in Amsterdam were a disaster e.g.:

    I don't know enough about it but I'm guessing the link above is full of the usual lies from those in favour of abolition. I have heard this argument many times from abolitionists i.e. that attempts to regulate the industry in countries like the Netherlands and Germany have been a total disaster resulting in MORE trafficking. That argument of course makes no sense at all to me. I would like to hear your views as obviously you have direct knowledge of what really happened. Thank you.

  3. Unknown Says:

    Thanks Felicia, I'll have a read of that.

  4. xdwitt Says:

    You are so right again in this post. We have discussed this before on twitter and I believe this really can help.

  5. Petre Pan Says:

    This is a great idea in theory, but until the studies back it up it just doesn't work. Making prostitution easier and more accessible (helping with entry programs) does NOT lower human trafficking. I don't know why--your arguments are reasonable, and should work, but in the real world they just don't.

    You're clearly an educated woman who enjoys her job and chose it freely--human trafficking victims, as you've noted, tend to be poorer women with a history of sexual vulnerability, and while in your situation, as your logic shows, making entry easier would theoretically provide a good option to keep you out of the hands of a trafficker, that simply isn't what happens to actual vulnerable women in the real world when prostitution is made easier, or even legal. In the real world, making prostitution easier makes life easier only for the customers--including the abusive ones.

    Here are some references and facts--tons of sources listed below.

    "In the one year since lifting the ban on brothels in the Netherlands, NGOs report that there has been an increase of victims of trafficking or, at best, that the number of victims from other countries has remained the same (Bureau NRM, 2002 : 75)." Netherlands

    In Australia,
    Noted of the State of Victoria which legalized prostitution in the 1980s, "Trafficking in East Asian women for the sex trade is a growing problem" in Australia…lax laws - including legalized prostitution in parts of the country - make [anti-trafficking] enforcement difficult at the working level." (U.S. State Department’s 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

    Back to the Netherlands, child prostitution increased dramatically as soon as prostitution was legalized. "The Amsterdam-based ChildRight organization estimates that the number has gone from 4,000 children in 1996 to 15,000 in 2001. The group estimates that at least 5,000 of the children in prostitution are from other countries, with a large segment being Nigerian girls (Tiggeloven : 2001)."

    In Victoria, when prostitution was legal there and not in other Australian states, child prostitution rose dramatically. Highest number of reported incidences of child prostitution always came from Victoria, after legalization. (Based on increased evidence of exploitation from a 1998 study undertaken by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) who conducted research for the Australian National Inquiry on Child Prostitution)

    In Germany,
    "In January, 2002, prostitution in Germany was fully established as a legitimate job after years of being legalized in so-called eros or tolerance zones…As early as 1993, after the first steps towards legalization had been taken, it was recognized (even by pro-prostitution advocates) that 75 per cent of the women in Germany’s prostitution industry were foreigners from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and other countries in South America (Altink, 1993 : 33). After the fall of the Berlin wall, brothel owners reported that 9 out of every 10 women in the German sex industry were from eastern Europe (Altink, 1993 : 43) and other former Soviet countries. The sheer volume of foreign women who are in the prostitution industry in Germany - by some NGO estimates now up to 85 per cent - casts further doubt on the fact that these numbers of women could have entered Germany without facilitation. As in the Netherlands, NGOs report that most of the foreign women have been trafficked into the country since it is almost impossible for poor women to facilitate their own migration, underwrite the costs of travel and travel documents, and set themselves up in "business" without outside help."

  6. Petre Pan Says:

    Prt 2:
    In Switzerland,
    "Brothels in Switzerland have doubled several years after partial legalization of prostitution. Most of these brothels go untaxed, and many are illegal. In 1999, the Zurich newspaper, Blick, claimed that Switzerland had the highest brothel density of any country in Europe, with residents feeling overrun with prostitution venues, as well as experiencing constant encroachment into areas not zoned for prostitution activities (South China Morning Post : 1999)."

    "The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International (CATW) has conducted 2 major studies on sex trafficking and prostitution, interviewing almost 200 victims of commercial sexual exploitation. In these studies, women in prostitution indicated that prostitution establishments did little to protect them, REGARDLESS of whether they were in legal or illegal establishments. "The only time they protect anyone is to protect the customers." In a CATW 5-country study that interviewed 146 victims of international trafficking and local prostitution, 80% of all women interviewed suffered physical violence from pimps and buyers) and endured similar and multiple health effects from the violence and sexual exploitation (Raymond et al : 2002)." The study found that EVEN surveillance cameras in prostitution establishments had a negligible (statistically insignificant) result on safety during sex work.

    On the other hand, laws against prostitution DO help drive down trafficking. *The NationalRapporteur on Trafficking at the National Swedish Police has stated that in the 6 months following the implementation of the Swedish law in January 1999, the number of trafficked women to Sweden has declined. She also stated that according to police colleagues in the European Union that traffickers are choosing other destination countries where they are not constrained by similar laws. Thus the law serves as a deterrent to traffickers. Quoted in Karl Vicktor Olsson, "Sexkopslagen minkar handeln med kvinnor," Metro, January 27, 2001:2

    I don't know why it works that way. I don't know why educated women like you are in the minority, and I know your experience feels different than what the worldwide studies and statistics demonstrate. But world-wide, you ARE in the minority, and the majority of women in prostitution did NOT choose sex work as their First Choice job. Given equal pay with men, equal treatment in a society that doesn't see us only as sex objects, and given the true opportunity to pursue our dreams, most sex workers do not even want to be IN the sex industry, and making sex work easier via legalization or entry programs only makes it easier for the men behind the industry to exploit these women who via poverty find themselves with "the next best" option. Those not-you women--the women I work with (in another country, though). Basically, if you're going to be a happy prostitute, you need to have control over your own business, period, end of sentence--(although ironically I'm not ending the sentence here)--and any entry program is only going to put women in the hands of existing businesses and inept government officials, creating additional vulnerability and dependence on the MEN who benefit from the industry. That's simply the reality that we see in any nation where prostitution is made easier.

    Simply put, if making prostitution easier really did end human trafficking slavery (and I'm using the UN definition so we're all on the same page), the Netherlands, Australia, and the majority of Europe wouldn't be such a hotbed of child prostitution and international immigrant exploitation--those numbers should have gone DOWN ten years ago. They didn't. Prostituted women are not criminals, you're people: legalizing or facilitating prostitution doesn't legitimize you as humans, and fighting against easy-access prostitution doesn't make your decisions less valid--it's only there to protect women who never really had a decision in the first place.

  7. Felicia Anna Says:

    It's funny you should say that my theory is nice, but they wouldn't work in the real world, since I work in this real world, and I don't think you do. In fact, the reason why I write these things, is because I come from the real world and this is how reality is like, so I also know what would work best to fix it, and not just some medical student sitting behind a desk reading a bunch of papers.
    Secondly, studies do back it up, you just haven't read them. To get things straight before we begin. The official organization which has all the correct numbers is the NRM in Holland. NRM stands for Nationaal Rapporteur Mensenhandel (National Rapporteur Human Trafficking), and is the only official organization which receives all the date regarding trafficking, including those about court cases etc.

    Your first source from the NRM in 2002 but is taken out of context. Since the NRM report clearly states: "Whether shifts noted are related to the abolition of the general ban on brothels on 1 October 2000 cannot be stated."
    Furthermore the NRM stated in a report from 2013 that states: "It is not (yet) possible to give an answer, on the basis of statistics, to the question of the extent
    to which legalisation of prostitution leads to more human trafficking." Source (p.5):
    Also recent research from the Dutch government states that 'if any abuses occur, they are more likely to occur in the illegal part rather than the legalized prostitution' (WODC 2015).
    In short, you took a quote out of context to prove a point. But fact is that we don't know, since the NRM 2001 report was the first report they ever made. So there is no data about the period before this time, thus making it impossible to conclude this.

    What happens in Australia is nice, but something from over 30 years ago is not really reliable. Beyond that, I'm talking about Holland, not Australia, and there's a big difference between these two countries.

    You source from Tiggelhoven from 2001 is yet again an estimation. But looking at the facts about child prostitution, they point in the opposite direction.
    Recent research from the Dutch government states that minors working in prostitution in the legalized sector hardly to never happens at all (WODC 2015 and 2006).
    The amount of child prostitutes according to your statistics would be larger than the total amount of 'presumed' victims by the NRM, which makes these numbers completely ridiculous.
    The total amount of 'presumed' trafficking victims in 2013 was 1437. The total amount of presumed minors that are trafficked according the the NRM are 258, not even close 1000, let alone the 4000 or 15.000 mentioned in those reports.
    In short, these estimations are nonsense.

  8. Felicia Anna Says:

    Again a study from Australia, while I just proved it's nonsense that child prostitution is as huge as you stated above.

    Your report from Germany actually states exactly what I'm saying here, and what I present a solution for:
    "As in the Netherlands, NGOs report that most of the foreign women have been trafficked into the country since it is almost impossible for poor women to facilitate their own migration, underwrite the costs of travel and travel documents, and set themselves up in "business" without outside help"
    So what where you saying again? No studies back it up, while your own sources even state the same issues.

    A Chinese paper about Switzerland? Are you serious? This isn't a study, it's a fucking newspaper! Anyone can report it, it doesn't make it true.

    Your CATW study is nice, but what does that prove? That trafficking happens both with legalized prostitution and with illegal prostitution? Yeah, we know!

    LOL, seriously? You are taking something from Sweden? The most violating form of surpressing women in sex work ever? From a country of which every sex work organization can tell you it absolutely doesn't help.
    And what do you expect? Surprised that if you criminalize something, they can't find any victims? Come on!

    Your sources are so biased or taken out of context, or sometimes just complete lies, the only advize I would give you is to read a book by prof. Ronald Weitzer, expert in human trafficking and sex work, called Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business.
    Furthermore I would suggest you would read the last two NRM reports, and than also read my blogpost about what 'presumed victims' mean, and all the studies and reports made about human trafficking in Holland:

    I think I know a bit more about the realities of prostitution and trafficking in Holland than a student from another country.

  9. Felicia Anna Says:

    P.s. Petre Pan
    For a medical student you should know that criminalizing prostitution only leads to an increase in HIV. The AIDS congress in Melbourne a year ago called out to legalize prostitution in favor of fighting HIV's.
    Perhaps you should look it up, may be usefull since you're a medical student, you may want to know what;s going on in your own field.

  10. Eugene Che Says:

    As a liberitarian in a conservative society, I feel relieved reading your piece. Keep it up! We need more of you out there, making a difference by standing out and doing what you believe is right!

Post a Comment