Opinion: Prostitution policy

POSTED: 07/9/13 12:12 PM

Anybody who thought that prostitution –at least the conditions under which prostitution is practiced – is only a problem in St. Maarten ought to consider the situation in that decent and well-organized country called the Netherlands. Gert-Jan Segers, a Member of Parliament for the Christian Union – not exactly a party with liberal ways of thinking – stands up against the new prostitution law the First Chamber is about to approve today. Good man: somebody has to speak out and Segers has a clear vision on this matter. The Dutch daily Trouw published this pinion by Segers yesterday:

After a period of no less than six years the new prostitution law threatens to be dragged through the First Chamber. The reports about human trafficking are frighteningly increasing, but with a call on privacy the law that is designed to combat forced prostitution is trimmed down. If this battered piece of legislation really is all we have to offer as legislators to traded and ill-treated people, it is a crying shame. It is as if we are now concerned about proper ventilation on a slave ship. Maybe the portholes will be opened a bit wider afterwards, but in the meantime the slave ship continues its journey.

“Nobody is standing here for her pleasure,” said a young woman who had found her place in what is called the meat carousel in Amsterdam. A covered alley with small rooms for prostitutes. I followed social workers for a day and they put me in contact with this highly educated woman who had, according to her own statement, taken a wrong turn in her life. I also spoke with a Bulgarian woman who had been prepped for the business by her mother when she was just twelve years of age. A smiling, pharmaceuticals-addicted woman who took her pimp for a friend, and genuinely thought that her breast enlargement was an expression of his love.

It was a visit that is part of a longer search for the reality behind the glamour. It is a sad trek across a boulevard of broken dreams, with countless stories about coercion, ill-treatment, debts to pimps and forced abortions. With as a recent low the arrival of mentally handicapped girls from Eastern-Europe, who are being traded as girls of easy virtue.

Not every Dutch prostitute is a victim. But there are countless others who are. Women with a smile on their faces and a broken heart in their abused bodies. The past year Comensha

(the coordination center for human trafficking – ed.) recorded almost 1,200 victims of human trafficking in the prostitution in the Netherlands – a dramatic increase of 60 percent. And then there are the many women and men that are in the prostitution who do not dare to report the coercion, the exploitation and the ill-treatment. Estimates about involuntary prostitution in the Netherlands go as high as 90 percent of the 25 to 30,000 prostitutes in the country. Even a more careful estimate means that every day tens of thousands of commercial rapes are taking place in our country. If the legislator is more concerned about privacy during the registration of prostitutes than it is about coercion and exploitation, then our moral compass is broken.

Thirteen years ago the Netherlands abolished the ban on brothels. An important objective was to be able to make the distinction between voluntary and coerces prostitution. Most social workers, supervisors and police officers agree that this target has not been met. Preparations for the law on the regulation of prostitution started already in 2007.

Due to the legalizing of prostitution human trafficking from Eastern-Europe has increased. The age limit for prostitution was going to be increased to 21 years, for practicing prostitution a permit would be required, and prostitutes were going to be registered. But after a very cumbersome process only a part of the legislation will make it to the finish.

It is highly questionable whether the majority of the prostitutes object to registration. The objections are coming mostly from people that sell prostitution as just another job or as a start up job for newcomers.

The municipality of Utrecht has positive experiences with registration. Prostitutes in that city speak with the GGD (the local healthcare service) and they have a name and a face. Because of this Utrecht was able to take action after it received more and more reports about human trafficking. One-and-a-half week ago the last permit for window-prostitution was revoked.

It is more than telling that not a single operator that lost his permit has taken his case to court. Darkness prefers to avoid the light in these cases. At the same time Utrecht shows how necessary it is to establish a national registration system. Because the women of the Zandpad in Utrecht have once again become people without a name and without a face. They have dispersed into a world where exploitation and coercion is the rule rather than the exception.

The Dutch prostitution policy fails. Prostitution and coercion are still inextricably linked. There is no simple solution to definitively eradicate coercion and exploitation. But it is morally unacceptable to rest after a cumbersome finish of a battered prostitution law.

The first step that needs to be made is to make customers punishable who knew or could have known about coercion and ill-treatment. This summer I’m working together with others on an initiative-law on this point.

The next step could be a ban on pimping, because it is impossible that we keep tolerating that prostitutes have to work themselves to the bone for heartless men for whom people are a commodity. And if those additional thresholds are not working, we’ll have to start thinking about the question whether buying sex is not up for a ban. Just like in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and possibly shortly also in France and Ireland. I prefer that the voluntarily moonlighting student has to find herself another job to accepting the modern slavery of thousands of men and women of whom we do not even know the names.”

Segers party may not have a reputation for liberal thinking – but the Dutch MP is fully on the mark with his opinion. He could take his cause without changing a syllable to St. Maarten where the government has turned a blind eye to excesses in the prostitution industry. Remember how the prosecutor’s office took the owner of the Border Bar to court? Remember how this man was sentenced to 54 months for human trafficking and for robbing the women that worked in his brothel of their freedom? The prosecutor’s office asked the government after the verdict had become irrevocable to take away the permit of the Border Bar. And what did the government do? Exactly, up to now: nothing.

That lame attitude sends an awful message to the community. Many citizens, including politicians, are church going. But when it comes to standing up for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, they collectively turn their backs and pretend that nothing is going on.

We understand that a committee is working on a new prostitution policy for St. Maarten. Taking a leaf from the Dutch prostitution-Bible suddenly does not sound like such a good idea – but taking the remarks from MP Segers into account makes an awful lot of sense.

Unless, of course, our politicians want to keep celebrating Emancipation Day while blatantly ignoring the modern day slavery on our island they could really do something about. Mark our words: among our fifteen parliamentarians there is at best one prepared to stand up for the victims of prostitution.


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