Improving sex workers rights: Housing
A lot of journalists always ask me what would need to improve for sex workers rights. And since I get that question asked so many times, I though it would be a good idea to make a list of them. The list not only explains what would need to change, but also how it improves sex workers rights, and even how it fights human trafficking.
Because as opposed to what many people believe, sex workers rights and fighting human trafficking (exploitation and coerced prostitution), go hand in hand. After all, also freeing the slaves during the slavery happened by giving people more rights, and not by limiting their options.
In this first episode we'll talk about housing, and how stopping discrimination against sex workers on the house marker can not only improve their position, but even fight human trafficking!

The problem?
Having a place to live is one of the most basic human rights. Still most sex workers are being refused by house owners and real estate agencies. They are scared to associate themselves with prostitution, due to the bad image. They're either scared we'll attract 'scare looking people', or that it will get them involved with crimes such as human trafficking and money laundering. This is the stigma of sex workers.
This causes sex workers to have huge difficulties to find a place to live. Most people will refuse you, and only a handful of people are willing to rent you an apartment or a house. Those people that are willing to rent you a place to live basically fall into two categories:

1. People that don't have a problem with sex workers
2. Slum landlords that know the problems sex workers have and know they are vulnerable enough to take advantage of.

The people that don't have problem with sex workers are great. They are often kind and understanding about your situation, but are rare to find. The second type however is a different story. They are the slum landlords that provide bad quality housing, often with old/broken furniture, a mouse plague, broken dishwashers/wash machines/kitchens etc. They ask a high price for their overpriced shitty apartments, but they also know sex workers are desperate for a place to live, so they don't have much of a choice and are willing to pay the high price. Also these slum landlords often have problems with the government for their poor quality (sometimes even dangerous) housings.

The problems to find housing for sex workers often causes immigrant sex workers from for instance Romania and Bulgaria to live together, since they can't all find a place to live. Often the police sees foreign sex workers from Bulgaria and Romania living together as a 'sign of trafficking', while in fact it's a sign of discrimination against sex workers from real estate agents and landlords.
(An example of how we got refused from one of our many searches for a place to live)

How to fight this problem?
Actually it's very simple. The government should not allow house owners, landlords and real estate agents to discriminate against sex workers. This problem has already existed since the day prostitution got legalized here, and has already been mentioned many times, but in 15 years time the government has done nothing about this. I've heard both mayor Eberhard van de Laan and minister Opstelten talk about this many times, yet they have done nothing about it thus far, and in stead have only done things to make our lives more difficult with more regulation and closing down more workplaces, forcing many sex workers either to leave the country for other countries where again the chance exists that they could become victims of trafficking, or forcing them into illegal prostitution, with again a chance of becoming victims of trafficking. In short, they almost seem to want to make us (real) victims of human trafficking.

The solution however lies within not discriminating people based on their profession, as long as it's a legal profession of course. That way sex workers would not be refused a place to live, sex workers would more easily be able to find a place to live, this would prevent sex workers from foreign countries to seek help from traffickers who want to exploit them, and it would cause less foreign sex workers to live together as they do now, making it more easy to be able to separate them from the real victims who also often live together. It's a very simple thing, if you increase the contrast between those that are victims and those that are not, it becomes easier to see who are the real victims.

How it fights human trafficking?
Human trafficking for the largest part exists out of exploitation rather than coercion. And the reason why people are being exploited, is because they require help with things the government doesn't help us with. Simple things such as housing. Like I said, sex workers are often being refused by landlords and real estate agencies. This causes sex workers to have huge difficulties to find a place to live.
Now, for Dutch sex workers this is difficult already, but not a problem they can't handle themselves. After all, they're Dutch, they know the language and they can be creative in their solutions, due to the fact that it's their own country.

Now imagine a sex worker from Romania or Bulgaria. Not familiar with the Dutch or English language, making it already difficult to find a place to live. And even if they do find a possible place to live, they get refused 90% of the time. So they need help with this. Just like any other immigrant needs help from locals to find a place to live.
But even if you would be able to find a place to live, with someone that accepts your job, they still want prove of your income, that you're able to pay for it. But of course, that's impossible, since they haven't started working yet, therefore their only income was the previous income from their home country, which obviously isn't sufficient enough to support the rent.

To give you an example: Most of the apartments in which I lived thus far were around 1500 euro rent a month. That's an average price for an apartment in the center of Amsterdam. You could of course argue that you could also live further away from the center, but than again, how are you going to get home in the middle of the night all alone?
Yeah, you can get a taxi, but paying a taxi each day to go back from work, in the end costs more than it saves money on your rent. In short, it's cheaper to pay 1500 euro rent a month, than to pay less for an apartment but in the end pay more for your transport back home.
Now, when you rent an apartment, they'll ask you pay of course the month's rent, plus one month ahead plus one months rent worth for the agency. In short, you pay for the first time you rent an apartment 3 times the rent, which comes down to 4500 euro.
Now, when you imagine that the average income for someone form Romania or Bulgaria is somewhere around 200 euro a month, you'll see what the problem is. They simply cannot afford this. And that is assuming that you actually found an apartment which the owner is willing to rent out to a sex worker, and assuming that the owner won't mind the fact that you don't have a fixed income or any guarantees to give regarding your income, after all you haven't worked a single day yet.

Right now the help to find a place to live for foreign sex workers often gets provided by people who are seeking to exploit sex workers. After all, they know sex workers from Eastern Europe need help with this, and the Dutch government does nothing to stop this discrimination, therefore they offer their help to find a place to live, but obviously with the intention to exploit the sex worker. In short, they fill in the gap that the government created by not fighting the discrimination against sex workers. They help the sex workers from for instance Romania and Bulgaria to find a place to live in exchange for a part of their income (usually a 50/50 deal), these are human traffickers.
Now the people that accept these kind of constructions with housing, are usually the slum landlords. They too know sex workers from Eastern Europe are desperate for a place to live, they know they can offer them the most shitty apartment imaginable, since they will already be very happy to have found one at all! Prices for these shitty (and often dangerous) apartments range from 1500 to 2000 euro, a price the trafficker will pay, and the exploited prostitute will have to earn back.

Fortunately there are many sex workers that are willing to help other girls to find a place to live. But fact is that they can't, due to the discrimination. So what happens is that often girls help each other to come here, they offer their own place to live (for free) as a solution until the girl can pay for her own apartment. Of course, this creates situations in where girls live together, which according to the police, is again a sign of human trafficking.
But than again, how else are girls supposed to move here, without help from anyone without being suspicious? There is simply no way! Even if you have all the money in the world, people often don't accept your job, and you're not familiar enough with the country to be able to figure things out for yourself. Girls simply need help, without it it's impossible. And fact is that many girls offer other girls help, but even than the police nowadays are starting to see the girls helping other girls as 'human traffickers', because they are helping with the immigration, which is according to the human trafficking law (273f) human trafficking!
As you see, there's no escape from it. Whatever you do, however you want to, there's no escape from either really becoming a victim, or the police 'thinking' that you're a victim, because you shows signs that are similar to those that are real victims. And fact is, that most girls, 'technically' speaking, are as much victim of human trafficking as they are also human traffickers themselves. But that;s only due to the fact that the current human trafficking law forbids any help one offers to the immigration of sex workers.

In short, if you really want to fight human trafficking, and if you really care that much about prostitutes, than the choice should be very simple. Don't discriminate sex workers. It not only makes their lives more difficult with finding a place to live, it even pushes them into the hands of human traffickers who greedily take advantage of the gap the government has created, to exploit them.
Furthermore, it would also solve the problem of groups of sex workers living together that are not victims, since every sex worker would be able to find a place to live without problems. Thereby increasing the contrast between those sex workers that ARE victims, and ARE living in one group in one house, because for example they are forced.

The more you increase the difference between those that are not forced and those that are, the easier it becomes to see who are really forced and who are not. But in order to create this contrast, you would first need to give sex workers the rights they (and every other human being) deserve. A place to live!

Dutch version
2 Responses
  1. Sex Workers wouldn't be refused a place to live, as it increases exploitation of sex workers.

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