Sunday, August 22, 2010

Is it getting better? At least in Belgium it seems

There is a bit of an information vacuum last months about prostitution in the Netherlands, especially regarding forced prostitution. I hope this signals a drop in the number of cases. But fortunately, there is some news from Belgium, and Belgium is very closeby, so perhaps this tells us something about the Netherlands. And it indeed seems to be the case that the relationship between prostitutes and the ones who escort them seems to be getting better, less violence, more money for the prostitutes, etc....... I hope this situation will improve further. I will show some links to reports about prostitution in Belgium, and give some Dutch to English translated quotes (I hope I will not provoke the ire of Ruth Hopkins again!). The articles are mainly about Het Schipperskwartier, a red light district in Antwerp which has recently been modernized. The prostitution neighbourhood was made smaller, so many windows had to relocate to three streets only. The window brothels are now also better and cleaner.

Achter de schermen in het Antwerpse Schipperskwartier (De Standaard, September 19 2009, Ruth Hopkins)
Patsy Sörensen, sees from her little office in de Leguit, lying right next to the prostitution triangle, the Balkan men appear in the district. "In the past it was a mess. Now the women work under much better circumstances, especially considering hygiene. But that is a wafer-thin top layer. I know what's going on underneath that. Bulgarian, Turkish, Albanian and Hungarian men come here to put their women to work. Their methods have changed. They don't batter the women, it is much more ingenious. They give the women just enough money so that they keep on working and keep on thinking that they are independent."

"Well, can you call it human trafficking then," wonders Jef Swartelé, investigator at the Federale Politie [Federal Police]. "I know the types to whom Sörensen refers to, but the Bulgarian women who come here, do they work involuntarily? Yes, they cede more than half of their income. That is not fair, but is it also criminal? Human trafficking is hard to proof."


The federal police reports that they try to track down possible pimps. On average forty investigations are running at this moment into human trafficking in the sex industry in the city of Antwerpen.

A large segment of these forty investigations aim at Bulgarian, Albanian and Romanian men who establish themselves in the city. They help 'girlfriends' with finding a window, bring them and collect them from and to work, to subsequently play card aimlessly in the many little cafes in the neighbourhood. "Those men profit from the work of the women. Indeed, like Sörensen notices correctly, the methods are sophisticated, the exploitation is more subtle. But we can do very little if the criminal law hasn't been violated and so at least legally there is no human trafficking," says Swartelé. "The Matroesjka [Belgian TV-series about forced prostitution] stories that you hear and see on tv: so bad it is not in the neighbourhood." Anna Vercauteren, coordinator of the health house for prostitutes Gh@pro, agrees with this analysis. "The image must be nuanced. Not every woman who works her, is forced. We know that some women work under a pimp and we often ask ourselves questions about certain situations, but we actually don't get many signals of exploitation and threats."
Several other highlights from the same article above: a male-to-female transsexual who was forced to work by women (!), and a prostitute who complains that business is slack because of the negative news about human trafficking which causes men not to visit prostitutes. Same is happening in the Netherlands! Business is slack!

Patsy Sörensen: "De pooiers doen weer waar ze zin in hebben" (November 4 2008,
"I see these men here every day: Turks, Albanians, Russians, Romanians, you name it", says Sörensen. According to her Antwerp uses their local agents - "the eyes and ears of the policy" - too little in the battle against illegal prostitution. According to the former Agalev-politician the prostitutes have documents which are or seem to be in order, and so one concludes that everything is in order. "But there is a system behind it. Girls who come here, are at work for a couple of months and then disappear without a trace, to another city, or another country."

Gentlemen's suits

"Pimps play it differently now. They don't walk in jogging suits anymore but in gentlemen's suits. They are polite and friendly. They are business men who are coincidentally active in the sex branche", so says Sörensen. She now is active as an expert for a working group against human trafficking of the European Commission.
Patsy Sörensen: 'Prostituees dachten dat ze in een sprookje zaten' (Het Nieuwsblad, July 31 2008)

Prostitution: The Skin Trade (Jun. 21, 1993, Time, By MARGOT HORNBLOWER PARIS;Nomi Morris/Berlin, Anita Pratap/Bombay, Susanna M. Schrobsdorf/Brussels and James Wilde/Istanbul, with other bureaus)

Prostitutie in tijden van globalisering en recessie Deel 14: België – De Antwerpse straten zijn te schoon (Petra De Koning, August 13 2010, NRC)
link to official website
"The shootings, the way the neighbourhood was impassible, that's all gone", says [prostitution official] Willems. "But you don't hear me say that there are no pimps anymore and that we have stopped exploitation. The circulation among prostitutes is big. After three or four months they are gone, so there certainly is organisation behind that. But the real poignant cases have been removed."

Anna Vercauteren of the health centre Gh@pro says that she doesn't hear prostitutes complain. "I think that they all want a clean room." Also Solange Cluydts of the organisation for victim of human trafficking Payoke, says that the prostitutes in the Schipperskwartier are now better off. "The pimps are less violent, and the women are allowed to keep a large part of their income, they don't live so isolated anymore." Criminal gangs have sent prostitutes to other houses in other cities. In Antwerp Payoke does discover victims of human trafficking in massage parlours, especially from Thailand.
Oh, I wanted to mention that the following book is really cool, I'm reading it now!:

‘My Name Is Not Natasha’ How Albanian Women in France Use Trafficking to Overcome Social Exclusion (1998-2001)(John Davies, 2009)

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