Thursday, December 09, 2010

Making love as work


I promised to review the book ‘Beminnen als beroep – mijn carrière als courtisane’ [making love as a profession – my career as a courtisane] by Roos Bachelier (2010, not her birth year, and a pseudonym). A Dutch book written by a Dutch prostitute.

Roos Bachelier is a mother of pubescent children. She is an older prostitute and very proud that her belly is still tight after giving birth to her children. She is active in the swingers’ scene and very open-minded. She has worked until recently in Dutch prostitution for many years (at least eight), mainly in club Mayfair in The Hague (which also hosts ‘privehuis Stout’ by the way, which is visited once). To illustrate how open-minded she is: her first entry in the world of prostitution began as an experiment in a swingers’-club under the presence of a female friend and her husband (of the latter). The husband played the role of a pimp and with the two of them they received clients. Also, when she married once, they had a special 'fuck-the-bride' wedding party.

In the book she mainly describes sexual encounters with clients. In my opinion, these stories are not so important. But, I want to know what she thinks about forced prostitution, and she has something to say about that. For me it still it big enigma if all the fuzz about forced prostitution is all just that …. a big fuzz, or is or was it real? Is there anything for a client to be afraid of?

After all the years that she has worked in club Mayfair she has encountered one prostitute who was forced. She describes her in the chapter called : Zorajah the insecure (in Dutch: ‘Zorajah de onzekere’). She is a young Moroccan woman who is forced to work by her husband. She was 18 years old (at that time), and already worked in prostitution for one-and-a-half year. They wanted to save money for an expensive marriage. He keeps all the money in a safe. She is not very good at refusing harmful request by clients. Two weeks after Zorajah stopped working in that club lurid men came to the club to collect some of her stuff that was still there. They were sent away by the managment. Roos tells that she feels sad about Zorajah. According to her forced prostitution does happen, within the margin, but still it does.

In another episode a vice inspector enters the brothel who inspects if there aren’t any forced prostitutes around by the way. He asks Roos if she does this work voluntarily. She becomes very agitated. She asks him ‘do you do you work voluntarily?’. ‘You do know what I mean?’ he says. She says ‘I understand very well what you mean. Exactly that’s why. I work to work, to earn money. Isn’t that what you also do?’. He says ‘let me ask it differently. The money that you earn, is that for yourself or for somebody else?’ She says ‘the money that I earn is only for a small part for myself. Most of it is for the bank, then a part goes to the supermarket, the shoe store, I pay the school fees of my children with it. Actually only little remains for myself.’ He says ‘but you don’t have to hand over your money to a man?’ While laughing she answers ‘to a man? Hell no. On the contrary, men lose their money to me when they come near me, the other way around doesn’t happen. May I ask something maybe?’. He answers ‘yes of course that may. ‘. ‘What do you think to accomplish with these questions?’ she asks. He says ‘In your case not so much. You probably do your work here voluntarily, that is clear now.‘ She says ‘but do you really believe that with these questions you can pick out a girl who doesn’t work here voluntarily?’ He says ‘You obviously never know, but that probability is very small. Actually it never happened to me. But I also give my visiting card. And it does happen that I get a response to that later. That nevertheless such a girl starts to think and asks for help. Then we can jump into action.’ She asks ‘What can you do for her? ‘ He answers ‘depending on the situation, mostly not so much. We can help her to leave the circuit, together with other organizations. It is complicated. But don’t you agree that abuses should be tackled?’ She says ‘Of course abuses should be tackled. But the real abuses, if you think about pimps, abuse, maltreatment don’t happen in a club like this! If you are a minor you are even not allowed to work here. If you are illegal you aren’t allowed to work here. Those abuses take place in an underground circuit. Because of the bad legislation and because of the arrival of internet that underground segment has become much larger. That’s where the abuses are. That’s something you should do something about as vice police. What could help in my opinion is that the minimum age of prostitutes is lifted to twenty-three years old. Young women who do this work, there mostly is a pimp behind that. If you are older, you are often also somewhat wiser, don’t let yourself be tricked by a man. Young women without self-confidence, they are vulnerable. But they don’t work in a club. A pimp will not put a girl in a club very quickly, there she is outside of his sphere of influence, she will be made independent way too quickly by her colleagues. Those girls are in another circuit, where there’s being worked without licenses.’

She says (in the same chapter as Wouter the cop) that in the eight years that she has worked in prostitution she never has encountered a woman who was violently forced to do this work. She does know that when at one point you want to do something else it could be handy to hide yourself behind a pitiful story, to get the social workers into action, to get understanding from society and get money for retraining. It seems easier to carry the humiliation when you are found pitiful because you couldn’t help it. She tells that whomever colleague she speaks, the most difficult part they never find the sex. If a girl abhors sex with an older man, she simply refuses him. The most difficult part is the moral condemnation from society. Social workers can’t help with that, they confirm it.

Another interesting part from the book is her chapter about Tara the window prostitute. At the time Roos knew Tara she worked in the club with Roos, but at first Tara worked behind the windows in Amsterdam. She started to work in prostitution at the age of 23 and works in prostitution for seven years. Tara tells that when she worked in window prostitution, that at first she had fifteen clients a day and that every day she went home with 1500 to 2000 Euros. She had a good connection with the other Dutch prostitutes. They were good colleagues, cooperated well together and helped each other. The prices were fixed, 50 Euro for a quarter of an hour. If the client wanted something more, like a different position or another piece of clothing that had to go off, he had to pay more. The rent of the room was 150 Euro, plus other costs (including condoms and parking) it cost 200 Euros to work. But you earned that back very easily. But then….. the Eastern European prostitutes came. They were all here to make money quickly. She never noticed anything about human trafficking. They do everything for 30 Euro. One after the other Dutch prostitute stopped. The good atmosphere was completely gone. Gradually she earned less. At first she went home with 2000 Euros a day, then it went to 1500 or even 1000. It went worse. It became normal to go home only with 600 or 700 Euro. Then came the days that she went home with nothing, and even TWO days in a row that she had nothing……

I find these testimonies very peculiar. Roos’ claim that there is no coercion in the club she works sounds plausible. This is an expensive club and it could be true that forced prostitution mainly happens in cheaper brothels. And above all, Roos mainly worked in that club. But Tara’s story surprises me. Of window prostitution you hear very often that the pimps are very present in these areas, and that they often approach and extort the independent prostitutes. Open violence against prostitutes by pimps on the street (!) is reported to be very common, and very visible. And many young window prostitutes, also the Dutch prostitutes, are forced by pimps. However, I have encountered prostitutes before who swear (in print and in chat) that nothing special happens in window prostitution in Amsterdam, and all the stories about human trafficking are just a mosquito made into an elephant. So, what’s the truth?

The enigma continues....

She also did a radio interview radio 1. In the radio interview she says that forced prostitution cannot represent more than 5% of the prostitutes. And all the Eastern European prostitutes in the club knew what work the were going to do.

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