Closing brothels is closing eyes
'Closing brothels is closing eyes', that's the new report of academic scientists from the University of Utrecht about the closure of 165 window brothels in Utrecht. About two years ago the city government in Utrecht decided to close down all the window brothels in Utrecht, based on suspicions of human trafficking and abuses. Immediately the sex workers protested against the closures, not believing the accusations and feeling punished for something they didn't do. The mayor in Utrecht promised the windows to be re-opened as soon as possible, and the sex workers had the ability to start their own corporation to apply for the brothels.

Two years later, nothing has changed. Several corporations were founded, the Macha's and Freya, both never got a permit to run the brothels, because the city of Utrecht kept changing the rules of applying for a permit. In a recent court case the judge decided that the city government can no longer just refuse Freya a permit, and has to go in negotiations with them about it. This only strengthens the sex workers their believes that the city government of Utrecht had a hidden agenda, not really being interested in fighting crime in prostitution, but rather in real estate (sound familiar?), and that the refusal of permits was just a way to keep prostitution away. That, because the area in where most of these windows were situated, just happens to be the same place real estate companies want to built some new real estate buildings. And of course with prostitutes working only a couple of feet away from these brand new apartments, they needed to get rid of prostitution so the price of this real estate goes up. After all, nobody wants to life next to a prostitute.

Today scientists from the University of Utrecht presented their research on the closure of brothels in Utrecht. And their conclusion? The closure of windows have not improved the situation of sex workers, but made it much worse. The city government of Utrecht, which always claimed to keep track of where the women are now, have no idea what happened to the women or where they are now. In fact, the city government has hardly been interested in the well being of these sex workers at all, which is strange considering the reason for closing their workplaces. After all, didn't they close their workplaces down for their well being?

The report is devastating for the city government of Utrecht. And the report speaks about a 'human trafficking hype' that's being created purely based on 'gut feelings'. The supposed human trafficking was never found, and the supposed report of the city government of Utrecht which would prove so is 'confidential'. The sex workers interviewed for the research believe the reason the confidential report is 'confidential', is because there is no proof. It's again just people 'thinking' and 'feeling' stuff, but never based upon any actual proof. Yet again sex workers have become the victims of the stigma on sex workers as victims.

The parallels between what happened in Utrecht, with the closure of window brothels there, and Amsterdam, are remarkable. In my opinion not that strange. It looks like Amsterdam has become a proven model to get rid of prostitution in a successful way for other purposes, and Utrecht simply copied that to get rid of prostitution in their city. And just like in Amsterdam, also in Utrecht the motivations were never human trafficking and abuses, these were merely popular hypes used to justify their goals: profiting from real estate.

People who criticize this report, claim that the number of 30 sex workers that were interviewed for this report are not representable for a group of 300 women. Yet, exit polls used for predictions in politics, which are most of the times fairly accurate, are being held among about 3000 people, based on a population of 16 million people in Holland. That's only 0,02% of the total amount, while in this research about 10% of the total amount were being questioned. In short, the percentage of questioned sex workers for this report is much higher than those with exit polls, so why wouldn't they be representable? And above all, there is no other research done among more sex workers on this subject to proof otherwise.

The idea that 10% of the total amount of sex workers wouldn't be representable gets backed up by a claim made by authorities, like the city government of Utrecht, who claimed that there were 'many things wrong' in window prostitution in Utrecht, which according to them led to 600 signs of human trafficking and abuses. According to the city government of Utrecht, the situation was so bad, and there were so many things wrong, that the only responsible thing to do, was to close the entire area down. Yet, looking at a grand scale research done among 579 sex workers in Utrecht in 2012, concluded that they could only find with 13% of the women signs of trafficking. Not exactly the grand scale of 600 signs of human trafficking, unless each 'possible victim' was reported at least 12 times each.

The sex workers themselves however also don't recognize the image of human trafficking on large scale. In fact, most sex workers have not noticed anything, and the only sources they heard regarding human trafficking came from authorities themselves, and not their colleagues or themselves.
An interesting conclusion to this report seems to be the conclusion that if you as a person can't accept sex work as real work, it becomes much harder to believe that people are willing to voluntarily do this job, resulting in the assumption that most women would be forced into this job. Almost like a self fulfilling prophecy, something which is largely a myth becomes a reality because they believe this myth is true. A recognizable image I often see with police officers, who always assume you're a victim, simply because they can't imagine it themselves doing this job voluntarily, thus you must be a victim. Their inability to accept the idea of sex work as work, causes them to project their own ideas of victims on us.

The report about Utrecht shows us something we already know. Closing down windows doesn't help victims or sex workers, in fact, it makes their situation much worse. Many of the sex workers are now in a much more vulnerable position. Their situation has both in mental and physical aspect worsened, as well as their financial situation. Many are unemployed because of the closures, others work illegal, where there's little to no protection, and the chance of becoming victim is much higher, as also concluded by the ministry of Safety and Justice recently.
Many have started working illegal from hotels or their own homes, increasing illegal prostitution, which has already been growing in recent years in Holland. At the same time legal prostitution in Holland has decreased with 40%. In Amsterdam alone window prostitution has been decreased already with 33%, but according to the mayor of Amsterdam this has not resulted in an increase in illegal prostitution, even though there's no research at all available about what happened to the women who lost their legal workplaces, or who those women are that work illegal.

The report from Utrecht is very clear about things. The women have been punished for something nobody has any proof of. Human trafficking still hasn't been proven, and the only report which supposedly would proof, is a secret. More than 300 women have become a victim of these closures, which were meant to fight human trafficking and abuses, and improve these women their situation. While in reality their situation has only worsened, none of them ever noticed anything about human trafficking or abuses, and the proof is still missing. Most women are either unemployed or working illegal, since there are no more legal workplaces available. In short, the closures of window brothels has not improved the situation, but only worsened the situation for these women. And the women have become the victim of policies made by politicians.

You could almost copy the report for the situation in Amsterdam. The only difference between Amsterdam and Utrecht, is that in Amsterdam the time table is much longer, and they haven't closed down everything thing yet, they're just closing down in phases. The results however are much the same. The position of sex workers is not being improved, and not a single victim is being helped by closing down the window brothels. Closing down brothels is just closing your eyes.
The truth is out now in Utrecht, and I hope for their sake that those responsible for the closure of the window brothels will be punished, since they acted against the interest of sex workers, and not in their favor, unlike how they pretended. I hope one day the same thing will happen in Amsterdam, and those responsible will be taken down as well. But most of all I hope all windows to be re-opened that were closed on false suspicions to which the sex workers became victims of being seen as a victim.

Dutch version
1 Response
  1. Jakub Says:

    I'm impressed with your ability to make sound arguments and show the other side of the story. You should be a journalist or an analyst, both really highly paid (of course if you wanted!!)

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