How banks discriminate sexworkers in Holland
Prostitution is a completely legal and legitimate profession in the Netherlands. Sexworkers like me pay taxes, we have run our own company as a self-employed company owner, we're registered at the Dutch Chambers of Commerce. But prostitution is mostly just a legal profession on paper. There are many things which proves that sexwork still isn't really accepted in the Netherlands. Despite all the things you may hear about the Netherlands and sexwork, and even some people in the Netherlands may claim about sexwork (yes, Jojanneke I'm talking about you), sexwork still isn't considered to be a normal profession.

One of the most clear examples is the systematic refusal of banks to do any business with sexworkers. Some banks just refuse sexworkers completely as a customer, even a private account, like how I was refused by the Rabobank back in 2010. One of the few banks which do accept sexworkers is the Dutch ING Bank. As a sexworker they make no problem about opening up a private account, and even a business bank account is possible. But what is the point of opening up a business bank account, if for example they won't let you accept creditcards? Here's what happened to me.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try to get a mobile debet/creditcard machine. Even though many customers pay cash, it happens often that people will come to ask if it's also possible to pay with creditcard. Or they first pay 50 euro, and than want to stay longer, but they don't have anymore cash with them, so they'd need to go to an ATM machine in stead. Sadly enough you never see them back anymore, because either they get lost, or they cool down too much to still be in the mood to go back. So I decided perhaps it would be a good idea to try and get a mobile debit/creditcard machine from the bank. After all, a couple of other sexworkers in the Red Light District have one as well, so apparently it is possible, as it should be with any legitimate business.

So we started looking into the possibilities of getting a creditcard machine. We looked at the costs, the pros, the cons, we figured out everything before trying to apply for one. Things where looking good, and we figured out the best way to go was to go to the ING Bank, where I also have my private account. I already asked them in the past if it was possible as a sexworker to open up a business bank account, and they where totally open about it. So I though I was making a good choice to pick the ING Bank as one of the few sexwork friendly banks. After all, they are a Dutch bank.

Going to the bank we first talked to one of the advisers about this. I asked if it was possible to get a mobile creditcard/debetcard machine for myself as a window prostitute. No problem they said at the bank, we do it all the time, according to them they had many women from the Red Light District which had one from the ING. They just advised sexworkers to be registered at the Chambers of Commerce under personal services in stead of prostitution, since otherwise the creditcard companies sometimes give problems with it. No problem, I was registered under personal services, as also the city of Amsterdam recommends. Besides that the name of my company was also one that didn't relate to anything to do with sex, in order to avoid future customers getting any problems with the name of my company on the bill of their creditcard.

So a couple of days later I came back and applied for a creditcard/debetcard machine with another bank employee at the ING Bank. He was completely oblivious to the fact that I was a prostitute as I noticed during the conversation. He told me the debetcard and creditcard where two sepperate things you needed to apply for, with the creditcard being an extra option on the debetcard machine. But since most customers I get in the Red Light only have creditcard, I really didn't care about the debetcard option, I just wanted the creditcard option. So I applied for both since debetcard was required as a minimum. A couple of days later I got the machine send by post. Going good so far I thought. But this Monday I got a letter from the ING Bank stating that they didn't accepted my application for the creditcard option. I was surprised, since I followed all the advise the bank employee gave me, and still I was being refused. On top of that, the ING stated in their letter that 'they' had refused me, and apparently not the creditcard companies. The letter stated this was due to the nature and/or products and/or services my company was offering.

So we called the ING Bank to ask them why they had refused me. Once I was talking to one of the employees, they notified me this was due to the fact that I was working in prostitution. I was surprised, since I know other girls with a creditcard machine from the ING Bank as well, so how come they had one if they didn't allow this? And secondly, how did the people that did the checkup for creditcard acceptance know I was a prostitute? They explained to me that the reason why they didn't accept me was because they don't accept any erotic services as customers for creditcards. A bit surprised I asked them why. Well, because according to the employee of the bank it was difficult to prove that I actually provided a service. If for example a customer's wife would ever question the name of my company on their bill, and they would deny the fact that they had paid me for sex, they could try to reclaim the money, saying they never had been to me, and therefore the payment was incorrect.

I was a little bit puzzled. After all, there are many other types of services which you also can't always prove where provided. Name for example a massage, or a visit to a beautysalon. I mean, how could you ever prove as a beautysalon that a person actually got a treatment from you? You can't, just as well as I can't prove it that people come to me for sex. So did that also mean they refused massage salons and beauty salons as customers for creditcards? Well, no! But it was because I hadn't been honest about the goal of my company. Again I was a bit surprised, after all, the city and even the government advises sexworkers to register at the Chambers of Commerce under personal services in stead of prostitution. And that's also what I offer, a personal service. Not every customer comes for sex, but I always deliver a personal service. So in fact, personal services is the most accurate description of my job, on top of the fact that the government as well as they city and various other organisations advise us to register under this.

Than the employee over the phone began to back up. No, I did correctly register under personal services, but because I was working in prostitution, they couldn't accept me. But than it really started to bug me. How did they know I was working in prostitution? After all, I registered under personal services, not under prostitution. And the bank employee that arranged everything for me when I was at the bank certainly didn't notify them about my job, since he wasn't even aware of it. So how the hell did they find out I was working in prostitution? They couldn't answer that, because of 'privacy' reasons. An interesting answer, since we're talking about my privacy, so I demanded them to answer me. Than they came up with some bullshit reason that it wasn't my privacy, but the bank's privacy, which made it even weirder. I didn't know a bank, a company, had privacy as well. After all, privacy regards people's personal information, not that of a company.

When the employer started to fall back onto the fact that I had applied incorrectly under personal services, while I was working in prostitution, and I replied again that this is what the government and the city themselves advised, I realized we where going in circles. He was just giving me bullshit answers, referring one thing to the other thing, without making any sense. Of course it's complete bullshit that people in prostitution couldn't prove that a services was ever provided, since this applies to many other services as well. It's the whole reason why the machine prints out a ticket.

I decided to give up, since I knew this conversation was going nowhere, and he was just there to keep me going in circles with his bullshit answers. Fact is sadly enough, that even the most sexwork friendly bank in the Netherlands, the ING Bank doesn't want to accept sexworkers as acceptable customers. This does not just hold back improving the positions of sexorkers, as was the goal of the legalization back in 2000, but it even makes it more difficult to fight human trafficking. That's because of a big problem with proving human trafficking, is the fact that money is mostly earned cash, so there's no way to keep track of the money flows. This makes it particularly difficult for victims to prove that they were victims, and the often huge amounts of income that they gave away to their traffickers. The acceptance of creditcard machines could have been a very useful tool in the fight against trafficking, making it easier to see where the money flows to, but the banks block this.

But even more worrying I think is the fact that the bank apparently has information about sexworkers being a sexworker, even though you're not even registered as a sexworker. I worry about my privacy. How is it possible that the bank can find out about this, when I'm not even registered as a sexworker? And what other consequences might this have for the rest of my life? What other things may I be refused in the future because I was once a sexworker? If I start my own company in a couple of years from now, to do something else, will I still be refused, because I'm registered with them once as a sexworker? And where do they register this? And how come I'm not allowed to know what information they have about me, and where they got this information from? I should be allowed to know where they got their information about me from, since this is my private information.

So, no matter what you heard about prostitution in the Netherlands being accepted as a legal profession, don't believe it. If prostitution was really a legal profession in the Netherlands, I should be able to accept creditcards just like any other company. Yet simply because I'm a prostitute they won't accept me. This does not only restrict sexworkers in their freedom and their position in society, but it even makes fighting human trafficking very difficult. So even though I have a legal business like everyone else, the banks still refuse me. And what is the government doing about this? To improve out position? Well, they're too busy spending 3 million euro's a year on exit programs for sexworkers to make us quit our job.

Dutch version