Sunday, February 26, 2006

Strong victims

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Interesting article about a book by Ruth Hopkins, “Ik laat je nooit meer gaan” (or “I never let you go”). What’s interesting in this article is a quote by Willem Heemskerk of het Scharlaken Koord, a Christian aid-organisation who help prostitutes on de Wallen. He says most prostitutes on de Wallen come from Balkan countries, he means Bulgaria, Albania and Rumania (countries from where many victims of human trafficking originate). Funny thing is I researched where clients describe their experiences with prostitutes. They describe app 400 prostitutes on de Wallen. From this I conclude that only a few prostitutes on de Wallen come from countries like Bulgaria, Rumania, Albania or the former Yugoslavia. It’s strange that het Scharlaken Koord sees something completely different. However, now I think about it, according to Toos Heemskerk (Willem Heemskerk's wife) 40% of the prostitutes on de Wallen is Dutch (she said in a television interview with Andries Knevel in 2003 that "60 percent" of the prostitutes on de Wallen are foreign).

also read:
Slave trade on de Wallen
A top attraction build on oppression
The prostitution cycle

Strong victims

By Herman Veenhof
October 29, 2005
Nederlands Dagblad

“You can’t rehabilitate these sort of women”, says Mario in Tirana. He talks about three girls who were in prostitution, were sent back to the Albanian capitol and ended up in an aid-course. They got an apartment and a job, but no freedom. Going back home was no option, there was no future in their own country. And Europe is still making eyes. Trafficking in women in the Netherlands, five years after prostitute became legal.

Mario is an unpretentious pimp. He has a bar, he creates visas on the computer, he knows the officials who guarantee his little kingdom in Albania in exchange for cash. Mario is not one of the worst. Petraq is more brutal. He rapes girls whom he kidnaps or lures away, so they’ll know how their future profession works.

Petraq is more violent, but also more powerful. He is higher in the criminal hierarchy, drives around in beautiful cars and supervises his women on the spot in the whore-business of the European capitol cities. He’s also in drugs. Within his clan a couple of members lead a legal existence; they launder large amounts of money in normal companies, with the help of normal European citizens. When Petraq is caught and prosecuted, he will only be in jail for a couple of months; then he’ll moves his activity to another country within the European Union.

Supply and demand

In those countries of the European Union politicians and rulers denounce the trafficking in women. ‘It is modern slavery, intolerable, absolute priority!’. They organize working parties, commissions, centres of expertise, safe houses. That home circus networks with the international manifestation of this, represented by foreign specialists in contact with suffering, who in the countries where the women are recruited, drive around in white jeeps and live, work and earn money in accordance with Western norms.

The circus evolves around the woman who seeks improvement of her lot, is sometimes naive, but more often enter prostitution consciously. Especially from the Balkans women leave in their thousands to Europe to earn good money, in prostitution if necessary.

If it comes to free choice, that should work in the Netherlands in theory. Prostitution is legal since 2000, the tax department and labour-inspection are ready to properly administrate income and procedures.

The internal borders of Europe are gone. There should have been a middleclass of self-confident whores from Central Europe. They are the supply, inevitable by the demand of horny men of all kinds of languages and nations. Every city-centre will get their Flesh-market back, legal, clean, transparent, well-regulated and sufficiently protected.

Enormously hardened

But somewhere something has gone wrong. Nothing is clean and transparent. Trafficking in women and prostitution generate roughly a billion euros a year, in the Netherlands. In our country work some thirty-thousand whores, of whom the large majority are from outside the EU and illegal [sic, many countries have joined the EU early 2004, countries like Poland and Latvia. The women from these countries now can work as independent contractors]. Willem Heemskerk (together with his wife Toos active within the Christian aid-organisation Het Scharlaken Koord): “Last week we visited 327 whores on the Wallen. Only eighteen of them were Dutch; the large majority comes from countries around the Balkans and are terrified, by pimps and clients.”

The prostitutes came in three waves: From Southern Asia in the seventies, from Central- and South America in the eighties, from the Balkans and Russia in the nineties. Prostitution has become migrant-labour. The Dutch women give up their profession or work across the border, where the inspection-troops of Zalm have less supervision. [Zalm is the Dutch minister of financial affairs]

The atmosphere has hardened enormously. Thanks to ‘Schengen’ prostitutes circulate faster and more often, so they will be more dependant on the pimp and the criminal organisation. The scarce aid which aims at assisting the women in their work situation, reaches the target group more difficultly. The circulation and the increased violence make it more difficult to build a relationship based on trust. [Know the Schengen-treaty? Schengen countries have no mutual border-controls.]

Short blow

Lengthy investigations, which in the early nineties led to clear results, are replaced by the dictatorship of the ‘short blow’. The police and the judiciary have to score, politics believes, who feels the hot breath of the unsatisfied civilian down its neck. The prostitutes are caught and routed in cleanup-operations. They, the victims, are punished. The traffickers usually are kept out of range.

Hardly any reports are made against them. The government has nothing to offer for prostitutes. Formally there’s a B9-arrangement, where the women who report the crime get a residence-permit during the time of the investigation and the lawsuit against the trafficker.

But often the report of the crime turns out to be too thin, the woman is not protected and then the vengeance remains of the criminal exploiter. Of the more than four-hundred cases where the Foundation against Trafficking in Women set its eyes on, only sixty became eligible for the B9-arrangement. Only some individuals made it towards a residence-permit. Nearly all women are expelled.

Even on de Wallen, the most decent and touristy ‘red light district’ in the Netherlands, the mafia rules. The Turkish-German has just been routed (and in full operation again in Utrecht and Antwerpen), then the vacuum is refilled by Albanians, who for a moment were gone since that cleanup-operation.

Trafficking in women is large-scale and big business. During the past five years in the Balkan countries and Russia alone 200.000 people have been trafficked. Of these modern slaves one fifth is minor, in the Netherlands ten thousand children work illegally, a thousand have been sold from their home country. All numbers are estimates. Only a fraction of those numbers are visible for the judiciary and even fewer of those cases are investigated until solved.

Making money

Silda lives in Albania again. She has a job, accommodation and is even online. She also has a son of three. The father is an Afghan, typically a man who started lovingly but became more violent. Three times he resurfaced in Albania, to take her with him. He’s only one of the men who want to make money with Silda.

Petraq kidnapped her nine years ago. She was fourteen then. From her mountain village she went straight by car to the coastal city of Vlora, in a speedboat to Italy and on the streets in Florence. Within three years she got to know the whole of Europe. The Boulevard Jacqmain in Brussel-Schaarbeek, de Theemsweg in Amsterdam, het Zandpad in Utrecht. Fifty guilders [app. 20 euros] for oral and normal sex, ten clients a day, seven days a week, that’s how she started. All the money went to her pimps. Even her food she couldn’t buy herself.

For habitation there was a small flat in Amsterdam, for an exorbitant price by the Dutch pawnbroker. He knew of her situation, but sees himself as a landlord. In January 2001 the police arrested her, as an illegal alien. She went to the alien detention centre in Zwolle. Petraq arranged a birth certificate in Albania, so he could receive her and put her to work somewhere else.

But in April Silda was released due to procedural errors. On May the 17th she escaped from Petraq, with her little son Fabio and his father. When he also turned out to be a violent pimp, she went into hiding with nuns in Brabant. In February 2003 she was deported after all.

Europe locked

Back home in Albania it was unbearable, because of the disgrace, the threats of the Mafiosi and the depressing poverty. She didn’t find relief with the relief program offered by the International organisation for Migration. A shared apartment and working in a bakery, she didn’t think much of it. She refused a damaged destiny a an ex-victim.

She knew there was more money in Europe, despite how perverted that work was. In 2004 she returned ‘voluntarily’ to prostitution. It turned out commuting to Athens, where she worked for less severe pimps in hotels.

Also the Greek police arrested her. She was the victim of human trafficking, but in the EU she especially was an illegal immigrant. Not trafficking in women was the criterion for government interference, but the wish to give Fort Europe an image as a ‘fortress’.

Now Silda lives in Albania again, leering at possibilities for leaving the country. But what she really wants, is a life in her own country with an income which offers her independence, which is modest if not impossible. The fifty euros per month which she can earn in the Italian shoe-factory in Albania are insufficient to make a living even in that country.

The factory isn’t in Albania without reason. The labour is very cheap, the shoes are beautiful, soft and supple. Real brothel-shoes. [=‘bordeelsluipers’, a Dutch word with no English alternative.]

This article was made based on a conversation with Ruth Hopkins, author of the book “Ik laat je nooit meer gaan. Het meisjes, de vrouw, de handelaar en de agent (De Geus, Breda 2005. 257 pages, 19,90 euro”. Hopkins (32) is an international jurist and journalist. She cooperated with a research by the European Union which in 2003 compared human trafficking, legislation and practice in the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. She followed two women for years, an Albanian and a Bulgarian, who as teenagers were sold and kidnapped and fell between the stools of exploitation and aid.

Hopkins reconstructed how it keeps on going wrong in countries where the legislation is well-organized, but who keep viewing the victims of trafficking in women as illegal immigrants. The residence-status gives them little hope, also because they cannot substantiate their recent history because of posttraumatic stress and dissociation. That’s why reports concerning trafficking in women are often true, but still useless. Then deportation is the unavoidable outcome.

also read:
Slave trade on de Wallen
A top attraction build on oppression
The prostitution cycle

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