I had a classmate wonder about the sex trade in the Netherlands, and I though you would be the right person to ask. The conversation was about sex trafficking, and whether, because sex work is legal in the Netherlands, there is a sex trafficking problem in the Netherlands. I imagine that, regardless of the legal status of sex work, there is still going to be a market for the kind of thing that goes on in the illegal sex trade, so I was wondering if you could tell me anything about this topic. I realize I may not have been very clear, so feel free to ask me to clarify.

There is indeed trafficking of women for prostitution in The Netherlands. There are no figures (at least none I could find) to compare the numbers to those of other countries, though.

However, I think the approach of The Red Thread (De Rode Draad, in Dutch), an organization of sex workers started in 1985, broadens the definition of trafficking and frames it in terms that are more meaningful to the pretty unique Dutch environment. They claim that, in The Netherlands, trafficking should be defined not only as forcing a person to enter prostitution against his or her will but also about the working conditions of a person who might have initially chosen to enter the trade but once he or she did so, finds him or herself working in slavery. I do believe that it is a novel approach and it broadens the definition and it is, at the same time, aligned with the principle of harm reduction (which is the principle legislators applied when they initially legalized sex work in the country).

I regularly write about feminism and the positions of feminist organizations regarding sex work. Lately I’ve been quite upset by the amount of press some of these organizations advocating the ban of sex work get. Incidentally, yesterday I was pointed towards a new campaign by the European Women’s Lobby working for a proposal in European Parliament to ban prostitution across the entire EU.

When feminist organizations present such proposals I have very emotional, almost visceral reactions. These groups supposedly represent me (not just because I am a woman, but because I am a woman of a certain socioeconomic demographic that such groups claim to speak on behalf of). However, here’s what these groups do not include: sex workers voices. They speak on behalf of, but do not include the very same people they are claiming to defend and represent. I find the proposition outrageous and insulting.

Banning all forms of sex work will not eliminate prostitution. It will only force the trade underground, effectively disenfranchising and disempowering a great number of people that will have no legal recourse to defend themselves in the event of rapes, assaults, physical or emotional threats or even slave-like working conditions. When the trade is banned society is collectively telling the people (regardless of their gender) involved in it that they now are on their own. If a person is assaulted during the course of their work, they can no longer report it (reporting it would involve admitting they broke the law, which can result in jail time). And this is just one example of the consequence of the prohibitionist model. It also affects healthcare, anti discrimination policies, working conditions, etc, etc…

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