Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Quality Labels [2]

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Finally, I managed to work through another boring bureaucratic report, this one studies the feasibility of quality labels for the sex industry:
http://www.dikkelul.nl/thumbs/pics/FinalReportQualityLabels.pdf
(watch out, it's on a porn site)
A pilot study on the development and the feasibility of introducing European quality labels in the prostitution sector in the Netherlands (By Dr. Conny Rijken and Linda van Krimpen)

I must add that they call every ‘she’ a ‘he’.

For businesses being part of the prostitution sector, they think it is best to make some guarantees to get a quality label. In my eyes, two of the most important guarantees listed are the following (see for instance page 236):
- that all employees have given their informed consent freely, in the required legal form and expressed or evidenced in writing (contract). This contract contains information on the working conditions, the minimum wage and rights and duties in general.
- that no consent has been given when use is made of the following means: threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
They asked some prostitutes what they thought about it (page 247):
They think a quality label could be a helpful additional instrument against trafficking in human beings although they state that trafficking in human beings is very difficult to recognise and it is not certain that the introduction of a quality label will be a large contribution to fight trafficking in human beings.
They asked some organizations not part of but nevertheless involved in the sector what they thought about it (like the Red Thread or the National Rapporteur on human trafficking) (see page 251):
Although all agree that a contract should be the basis for all work of the prostitutes, some important remarks were made. They said this rule does not say anything since a woman who is forced to work in prostitution will nevertheless sign. One person thought many women do not want to sign a contract so this rule would not work in practice. Another adds that most women only work for each entrepreneur for a short time so he wonders how this will work in practice. Furthermore, remarks are made on the fact that the free consent is very hard to check and that the responsibility is not with the entrepreneur. One person points out the downside of this rule, namely, that it can turn against the woman if she has signed a contract and she wants to report forced prostitution. However, he thinks it would be good to oblige entrepreneurs to interview the new employee in order to find out if she is being forced. Most agree that it is hard to find a solution for the problem of the absence of free consent, but it is thought that employees should at least be told about the role of help businesses like SHOP when they enter into an employment contract.
On page 257:
First of all, the rule that the consent of the prostitute has to be expressed in a legal contract is no protection since women who are forced to work in prostitution will also sign the contract. In this way, the contract does not say anything about the woman’s consent. Of course, the employer should focus on whether or not the woman is forced, but a legal contract will not prevent force. The suggestion of one interviewee to oblige the employer to interview every woman that wants to work in his club in order to find out if she is being forced may help, but it is still not a guarantee that she gave her free consent.
And they asked some law enforcement authorities about this issue(page 263):
One interviewee thinks a quality label could possibly change the atmosphere in Europe by making the sector healthier. In this way, the sector could get a better reputation, which may stimulate the sector to try to do more than only live up to the minimum standards. However, he does not think a quality label will decrease trafficking in human beings because this did not happen after the legalisation either.
The researchers also mention quality labels for street prostitutes (page 265):
It was stated by one of the interviewees that the policy with regard to street prostitution in Arnhem is different from the policy in Utrecht. In Arnhem, 85 street prostitutes have a licence but the municipality tries to reduce this number to a total of 35 by not issuing any new licences. Women working in the streetwalkers’ district meet four criteria: they are homeless, they have mental problems, they are severely addicted, and they are problematic.
Page 266:
One interviewee is opposed to putting the element of free consent in the contract since women who are forced will also sign. He is not opposed to an employment contract, but this contract should be adapted to prostitution. Furthermore, he thinks that if an employer finds out his employee is being forced, he should be obliged to contact the police or the STV (Foundation against Trafficking in Women). Another person also does not think a contract will help since every prostitute, forced or voluntary, will sign. It was added that the responsibilities of the employer should be formulated very carefully since they act not always very responsible.
Page 267-268:
Furthermore, it was added that there should be a reporting obligation if the employer suspects his employee to be forced by a pimp. This idea was discussed with other interviewees as well and the impression was that this obligation was greatly approved by both the sector and the law enforcement agencies. As stated above, in order to give shape to such an indicator the entrepreneurs must know the indicators as developed by the Board of Procurators General and discussed above.

One entrepreneur stated that colleagues of the prostitutes know better when a person is a possible victim of trafficking in human beings. However, those prostitutes interviewed did not want to report to the police if they have any suspicion. They thought it a private matter for the colleague and were also afraid that they could lose their anonymity if they reported.
Page 272:
Another concern with regard to the content of the quality label is the norm about the expression of free consent in a employment contract. Many of the respondents think this is a false protection since women who are forced to work as a prostitute will also sign the contract. In order to build in some guarantees that the woman is working voluntarily, a few more concrete indicators were suggested, for instance, a more elaborate intake with new employees. Such an interview can help to filter out victims of trafficking in human beings. It would be a good idea to develop a model questionnaire for the intake which is to be used by the entrepreneurs.
The research ends with a final list of indicators for independent prostitutes among which I will highlight some indicators (page 276):
- in order to find out whether the person is working voluntarily within our business an intake will take place before the actual work can commence. [footnote at the bottom of that page: For this intake, a standard questionnaire must be developed which includes questions on the existence of a voluntary basis for working in prostitution. ] Accompanying persons are never allowed to participate in the intake.
Page 277:
- that the business will report to the police or ‘Meld misdaad anoniem’ in case there are indications that a self employed person is a victim of trafficking in human beings. To this end the entrepreneur must know the indicators included in the guideline on trafficking in human beings.
Now, the end conclusion must be that according to many respondents it is not possible to filter out victims of human trafficking. This is a problem, because that would mean even if one would start a female-loving brothel, it would be impossible to stop forced prostitutes from working in such a brothel. And even if you would devise a system of quality labels you could and will have the strange situation that you have a brothel with a quality label which is full of victims of human trafficking, and where such a situation is even tolerated (because it is impossible to stop anyway). In that situation men will be guided to places where they legitimately can rape women.

I’ve actually wondered myself if it is actually possible in the first place. I was thinking about if perhaps there could be a system of psychiatrist who can first check a woman who wants to work in prostitution if she is mentally fit to do this work and perhaps also check if she is forced. But, in a situation where a boyfriend is the perpetrator I guess you have the situation that perhaps it is a violation of the woman’s privacy to ask such questions. That means that it is even illegal to stop some forms of forced prostitution in legal brothels.

This is a hell of a situation because I actually believe there are a substantial number of women who are actually voluntarily working in prostitution. I’m also of the opinion that prostitution in itself is not bad at all and doesn’t have a negative effect in itself on the women in the industry.

But I’m starting to believe that there will never ever be a system for prostitution clients to distinguish the forced from the voluntary prostitutes.

At the end, I can only hope the problem of forced prostitution will someday simply disappear.

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