To be, or not to be (a victim)
Today there was a great article of Asha ten Broeke in de Volkskrant about victims and the truth behind their statements. Let me first of all state that I, and I don’t think anyone else, doubts the fact that human trafficking, exploitation and forced prostitution really happens.
But, I also know the other side of it. Girls who use those stories as an excuse for other reasons. Girls that weren’t real victims, that weren’t exploited or forced into prostitution, but claimed they were for their own reasons.

One of them was one of my best friends. A Bulgarian girl, we lived together for almost a year, and she was the only girl from the Red Light District who I really trusted enough to talk about everything with her. And likewise, because she trusted me as much as I trusted her.
She came here in 2008 to work in prostitution. Out of poverty? Not really, her parents bought her a house and a car for her 18th birthday. So much for poverty I guess. Honestly I still don’t really understand why she choose to do this job, since she didn’t really need the money. But I guess people in general just always want more than they already have.

She had told her parents she was working in Italy in a restaurant. Every once in a while she would go to Italy, rent an apartment, to make some pictures for Facebook, and sometimes she would meet her brother there, to keep up the fa├žade that she was really working and living there.
Her boyfriend never really liked her choice of work. And after a couple of years this apparently started to bug him, as he wanted her to quit the job. In fact, if she wouldn’t quit working in prostitution, he was threatening to leave her forever. 

So she quit the job in 2012 and went home with her boyfriend. A month later she was back again in Amsterdam however. She told her boyfriend she was coming to give me a visit, but in reality she just came here to go back in prostitution. At that time I had just met my boyfriend and we were living together for only a couple of weeks, when she moved in with us until she could find a new apartment. Me and my boyfriend both witnessed what happened next. 
Because doing this sneaky thing behind the back of her boyfriend didn't last long, because a couple of weeks later he found that she was working again in prostitution. They had a big fight about it, and eventually broke up. Why? Because she choose prostitution over her boyfriend. So much for all those people that claim that nobody would choose for prostitution if they didn't have another choice I guess.

A little while later she went back again to Bulgaria. And that's where things really became tricky. Becuase one day she left the laptop open, and someone was starting to chat to her, a friend of hers from the Red Light District in Amsterdam. Her brother saw the chat coming in, and started to talk back to that girl, to which he found out the truth: she was working in prostitution in Amsterdam.
Now she found herself in a difficult position. Her cover up story that she was living and working in Italy was falling apart, and she had to come up with something. So finally she decided to admit that she was working in prostitution in Amsterdam. But, because she was scared her parents and her brother would condemn her decision to do this job, she blamed things on her ex-boyfriend. He forced me to do this job, is what she told them.

It’s easier to play the part of the victim to gain compassion, than to admit the truth that many people don’t want to accept. If you claim you’re a victim everyone loves and supports you, if you tell the truth that you choose to do this job yourself, people judge you on your choice of profession and often you’ll be excluded by people, also by family and friends.
Fact is that the stigma on sex work, is causing girls to lie about the truth. Not the ‘truth’ that they were forced into prostitution. But the truth that it was their own choice. This is a harder truth for people to accept than the idea that someone became a victim, and that is because playing the role of the victim is rewarded with love and compassion, while admitting the truth that you choose yourself for prostitution gets punished by people banishing you out of their family and friend circles.

Of course not every victim is a liar, and that’s also not what I am saying. There are plenty of victims out there of real forced labor and exploitation in prostitution. That absolutely happens. But do be aware of the fact that not everyone that claims to be a victim is a real victim. Often it’s easier to claim you were a victim, than to state you choose to do this job for yourself.
I’m not saying all stories are lies about human trafficking, I’m just saying that perhaps we should be a bit more critical about the stories we hear about human trafficking, and be a bit more critical about what victims claim.

This may sound harsh, and true enough for a real victim it must be terrible that people sometimes question your story, just because other girls hang up fake stories in order to avoid stigmatization. But unfortunately you cannot simply accept what a proclaimed victim says by default as ‘the truth’. Look more closer into the story, be more critical about it. It wouldn’t be the first time a victim turned out to be a liar, either for financial gain like Somaly Mam did or Maria Mosterd, or just simply to avoid the stigma of sex work like my Bulgarian friend did.

Perhaps if there wouldn’t be such a huge stigma on sex work, my Bulgarian friend could have just told the truth, instead of blaming her boyfriend for ‘forcing her’, while it was actually the other way around. Perhaps if there would be less stigma on sex work, there would also be less reason for sex workers to make false claims about being victims of trafficking, saving police and other authorities a lot of time and giving them more time to spend on finding the real victims and helping them.

This is just another example of how the stigma on sex work doesn’t help with the fight against human trafficking. Girls falsely claiming that they were victims because of the stigma, makes it more difficult and obscure to find the real victims.  This story is just one example, but I know more girls that did the exact same thing to avoid discrimination for their choice of profession. I even know of some guys that actually went to jail for this, because their (ex-)girlfriends made false claims about this.

We need to help the real victims, but the stigma on sex work causes some sex workers to falsely claim they were also victims to avoid the consequences of the stigma. This obscures the real problems of human trafficking, and makes it more difficult to find the real victims, while time is being spend on so called ‘fake’ victims trying to escape their stigma.

Dutch version
4 Responses
  1. Bobby Says:

    I remember before 2007, when Bulgarians and Romanians were not allowed to live and work in the EU, many girls who were found to work in the sex industry, for example in NL, Germany or Austria, claimed that they were victims of trafficking, so that they would be returned home with NGO (or IOM) money and be treated as victims in need of help, and not be deported and get a "black stamp" in their passports and forbidden to return to these countries. Of course, once back in their home countries, they would refuse any services or counselling, because they weren't traumatised, and just wanted go back to their home towns and try to find another way to leave, travel to the EU again and work in the sex industry again. They just learned from each other that if they're caught by the police they should say they were forced into prostitution to avoid deportation or jail and fines.
    This was eight years ago and apparently things are different now and people can lie for different reasons...


  2. Felicia Anna Says:

    @Bobby
    Very interesting! So it is also rewarded to claim you've been a victim, simply to get a free trip home plus a nice extra salary in stead of being evicted and jail time/paying fines. Very interesting!


  3. Sex Workers shouldn't make false claims of being victim of human trafficking. Due to this, police face problem to find real victims of human trafficking.


  4. Blogger Says:

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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.