New prostitution exit program
So this week the Minister of Justice, Ivo Opstelten, presented a new national exit program for prostitutes. For this new plan a budget of 3 million euro annually has been made available, for the next 4 years. The program offer prostitutes that want to quit their work, help with setting up their life, something some prostitutes struggle with, due to the huge stigmatization regarding prostitution.

Although I think it's good the government is doing something to help prostitutes, in this case helping prostitutes to exit, I'd rather see this money getting spend on fighting the real problem here. Because of course the real problem isn't that prostitutes have so much difficulty picking up their life after prostitution because it's such a different life, but rather because of the stigma that prostitution has to deal with.
Prostitution is still not socially accepted. This comes from people stigmatizing prostitutes as victims, or as 'dirty women'. This causes the fact that many people have trouble accepting the fact that you are (or was) a prostitute. This causes problems with housing (as I've written about here), opening bank accounts, getting loans, mortgages, but also being able to simple be treated as a human being rather then a 'poor victim' or a 'disgusting bitch'.

The funniest thing is, one of the people that create and keeps this stigma in place, is politician Gert-Jan Segers from the ChristenUnie. He does this with articles in the newspapers, like this, and this, claiming the vast majority of the prostitutes would be forced, even calling the area where I work a 'meat carousel', claiming that prostitution has nothing to do with respect for women or equality for men and women. Indeed, mostly bullshit, but certainly stigmatizing.
Now here's the funny thing. The new program that is supposed to help prostitutes quitting their job, because the stigma is causing problems (words of Ivo Opstelten himself), was an initiative of Gert-Jan Segers himself in collaboration with his even more extreme Christian friends from the political party SGP. So perhaps if Gert-Jan Segers would give people the right example, and stop stigmatizing us so much, we wouldn't need stuff like this. The hypocrisy!

But what I regret about this new program, is the fact that it only aims to help prostitutes who quit their job. Almost as if you're rewarding only those that choose to stop what they're doing, like it's something 'wrong' to keep working in the prostitution. It's sending out the message: 'the only good prostitute is an ex-prostitute', as Marjan Wijers put it.
Why didn't they invest these 3 million euro a year in the underlying problem, the real problem, the stigma? If they would choose to invest in fighting the stigma, not only would that help prostitutes with their problems after the quit their job, but they would also help all the prostitutes that choose to continue to work in prostitution. So why did they only choose to help prostitutes who want to exit the industry, not resolving the cause of these problems (the stigma), and refuse to help prostitutes that have no intentions to quit this job?

Now, the program isn't new, it's basically a continuation of similar programs that were already being introduced back in 2011 in various parts of the country. The only difference now, is that the program is national, and not anymore divided over different areas in the country. And between the period of 2011 and 2013 around 1750 prostitutes (annually about 875 women) used this program, of which only about 1000  (annually about 500 women) eventually also exited the industry. This means that only about 57% of all the prostitutes actually also exited the industry, and apparently 43% (750 women) decided that even after help, they were better off in the prostitution industry itself.
I guess it's a testimony to the fact that given a chance, still a large part of the prostitutes would pick prostitution over any other job. Because, even though these prostitutes called upon a program that would help them exit the industry, 57% actually also quit, while 43% didn't. So much for 90% being forced I guess.

I'm not exactly sure why so many prostitutes that at first decided to quit, ended up getting back into prostitution again, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the government forcing them. Though I can think of some reasons why about 750 women in 2 years time (375 women annually), decided to continue in prostitution rather then leading another life. That's because prostitution is addicting. This may sound weird, but when I mean prostitution is addicting, I'm not so much talking about the job itself, but rather the salary that comes along with it.

I myself have seen this already a couple of times. Girls deciding after years of working in prostitution to quit. They pack their bags, go home, and a couple of months later they're back again. Not because they miss the job itself so much, but simply because they love money. Cutting back on your expenses, not being able to shop until you drop, spend money like it's nothing, is a very difficult after you're used to having so much money. It's basically like an addiction, a money addiction. And fact is, girls can make a lot of money in this job, which is what makes this profession so attractive. So you see, you don't need to force girls into this job, there are plenty of women who would choose to do this job, because of the money.

I also doubt therefor a little bit that many prostitutes will use this new program. After all, many prostitutes in Holland come from other countries, and have no intention of settling here after they quit this job. They come here to do this job, because they can do it anonymously here, because nobody knows them over here, and because it's safer over here because it's legal as opposed to many other countries where it's either not regulated or sometimes even illegal.
It is a well known fact that a large part of the prostitutes in Holland come from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Those girls will not stay in Holland after they quit this job, they will simply go home, where nobody knows that they did this job. And because nobody knows this in their home country, they don't suffer from the stigma. So this problem isn't a problem for a large part of the girls working in prostitution.

The very small group of foreign prostitutes that do decide to stick around in Holland, also won't run into this problem so much. This for the very simply reason that many just won't tell it, so nobody will know. You have to remember that, especially window prostitutes, are highly independent in their work. They are their own boss, nobody tells them what to do, when to start, when they can go home, when they can go to the bathroom, or when they can take a brake. They are their own boss.
And fact is, that many prostitutes would have a problem to go back to a situation in where they have a boss telling them what to do. After so many years of being your own boss, it's hard to swallow orders from someone else. So what you see, and this goes for both prostitutes remaining in Holland after they quit, as well as prostitutes going back to their home country, is that most ex-prostitutes don't start looking for a job in which they have to work for a boss. Many of them choose to start up their own businesses (they did after all spend years saving up money for that), some may have saved up enough money to never have to work again, and some others end up in a traditional household, where they stay home and the man works. In short, not many ex-prostitutes will choose to work for someone else that will judge them for their past.

This perhaps also explains a bit why so many women dropped out of the program. Perhaps many felt they didn't want to jump through hoops again for a boss that already judges them on their past. Perhaps many decided that a regular job doesn't offer the freedom and salary they are used to.
But apparently there are also women that do get helped with this program. I think many of them are Dutch prostitutes, since they are more likely to stay in Holland and start looking for a regular job after their career in the sex industry. I think it's good that this program helps them on their way, and I really hope the program works.

But I would've rather seen that the minister himself recognized the real problem, the stigma, and started doing something about that, in stead of just trying to help out one group. Getting rid of the stigma on sex work would help all prostitutes, not just those who want to quit. But I guess that's not the intention the policy makers, like Gert-Jan Segers, had in mind. After all, supporting all prostitutes by targeting the stigma rather then the consequences of the stigma just for prostitutes who want to exit the job, sends out the message that prostitution is okay. And Gert-Jan Segers doesn't want to send out the message that prostitution is okay, after all, according to his own words, 'prostitution is not normal'.

I'm therefor also not so surprised that Ivo Opstelten agreed on this program, rather then actually doing something about the stigma itself. After all, Ivo Opstelten is somewhat of a conservative politician. It was him that introduced the weed-pass, so that only Dutch people could buy soft drugs in coffeeshops in the south of the country. And even though this whole plan of the 'weed-pass' was a complete failure, since many criminals saw their chance to sell their drugs on the streets to tourists in hopes of buying some legal soft drugs over here, causing huge problems in those areas with increasing crime on the streets, it is Ivo Opstelten that keeps hanging on to this idea. That, despite the fact the many other mayors in Holland have objected to this idea, since they also see the danger of increasing street crime through drug dealers on the street.

It's no secret that Ivo Opstelten is no fan of the Dutch 'tolerant' policy towards drugs, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't much of a fan of the Dutch tolerant policy towards prostitution either. After all, it was during his period as mayor of Rotterdam, that they closed down the only legal workplace for prostitutes in Rotterdam on the Keileweg. It was his plan as Minister of Justice not too long ago, to let prostitutes publicly register, revealing our identity to the public.

No, I don't think these are unintentional 'mistakes'. I think Ivo Opstelten is trying to do whatever he can within the law, to reduce prostitution, and this program to help prostitutes exit the industry, is just another example of that. After all, how come that all of Ivo Opstelten his plans regarding prostitution, always revolve around getting as many women out of this industry as possible, and making the lives of prostitutes themselves as difficult as possible? It's almost as if he wished all prostitutes would exit the industry, and he's even prepared to pay us for it, in fact, about 3 million euro's a year to be exact.

Dutch version
6 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    You have the most delightful Freudian slip in the first paragraph. You write:

    "For this new plan a budget of 3 million euro anally has been made available..."

    Now, stuffing the €3 million anally may well be what the politicians are really thinking, but you probably meant "annually". Sadly ;-)

  2. Felicia Anna Says:

    LOL, good point. Thanks for the tip, I corrected the slip.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The idea that "prostitution is not normal" is indeed what this is about. If they cannot ban it, they make it as difficult as possible.


  4. Frans Says:

    Agree. If the government (through Ivo Opstelten) states that the cause of the inferior social position of prostitution and prostitutes is social stigmatization, it should be the example for society and refrain from any stigmatizing action and comment. First and foremost it must emphasize the many social benefits of sex work instead of presenting it as an ally of crime. It should emphasize the many strong character qualities every person must have to practice sex work responsibly and therefore praise the many sex workers who keep doing a fine job despite the stigmatization. Why can no Dutch government official use common sense and highlight at least ONE positive thing of people doing sex work EVERY TIME they talk about sex work? The minimum would be to appreciate sex workers for making a living with fulfilling a normal human need, for doing work that is in very great demand. When a government official (and the media) would do this every time they raise the issue, it would set an example and help decrease stigmatization. It would also help change the government's moral prostitution policy and actually normalize or improve society's common opinion about sex workers and other people working around them.

  5. Ivonn Says:

    Two things:
    " Because, even though these prostitutes called upon a program that would help them exit the industry, 57% actually also quit, while 43% didn't. So much for 90% being forced I guess."

    I am not sure whether you meant it as if 57% quit their job we cannot speak of 90% forces prostitutes. It doesn't prove it as that the group that want to quit this job cannot represent all the sexworkers. So it might be possible - theoretically - that these women wanted to quit their job, and all the others are forced. Of course I don't believe this:), just want to make things clear. Even if some people use statistics wrong we can't let ourselves do that.

    And I think those who came from another country and want to go back also can suffer from stigmatizing. Just imagining myself in a job interview after 5 years in the red light district, getting asked: "and what did you do in the past five years?" :D. OK, I guess I can lie that I cleaned houses or worked as a waitress or anything else... but actually I would feel better if I was able to tell the truth as I think it is a way more logical step to work as a sexworker and earn a lot of money than go abroad and work as a waitress (even if that still pays more than working in an office with a degree:P)

  6. Cliente X Says:

    Wouah. Dutch minister of Justice has the face of a real, tough, bad pimp.

    (I wonder what would happen if a govt would do exactly the opposite: to fund a program to help women to become prostitutes... it's mad they use money from taxes to DESTROY work. OMG u have such an horrible govt as we have here!)

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