I sometimes read back some books and reports that I have read a long time ago. And I stumbled upon Toos Heemskerk again. This led me to a frenzy and I searched for everything that I have found about her. And I also searched the internet to find new material.
She is a social worker who worked for Het Scharlaken Koord (The Scarlet Cord), which is a sub-organisation of the Tot Heil Des Volks (which means something like 'For the Salvation of the People') which is an orthodox evangelical Christian organisation which offers help to prostitutes, gays, prostitutors and other lost people. Toos Heemskerk worked mainly on De Wallen in Amsterdam. She has worked there for years. A short while ago she switched over to Not for Sale which is an international organisation against human trafficking. Toos Heemskerk believes men shouldn’t visit prostitutes.
Reading through these interviews of Toos Heemskerk I get a very strange impression of the worldview of Christians. It is funny to realise that many years before I was also so superstitious. It seems like a long time ago, but now I am completely atheistic, and I even believe Jesus never existed! I now take the time to completely read the Bible, and I have the impression that people at that time used lots of magic mushrooms.
Toos Heemskerk knows many hundreds of prostitutes who worked on De Wallen. I believe that if you want to know something about prostitutes on De Wallen, then you can't ignore Toos Heemskerk. Perhaps she is the gateway to know what's really going on. In this post I have collected a lot of what she says about prostitutes. What she says about prostitutes is obviously not very positive, because she is an orthodox Christian after all. However, the research team of Frank Bovenkerk walked along with her on De Wallen in 2004 and spoke with some prostitutes. They partly confirm what Toos Heemskerk says. She also shows up in some documentaries and short films. Here is a link to one such short video:
In case it disappears this text appears underneath the video:
Toos Heemskerk; "Reality Check: Fighting Trafficking On the Ground in Amsterdam" by Not For Sale (Toos Heemskerks' presentation at the 2011 Global Forum)
She also appears in a documentary produced by Shared Hope, you can see her around 23:12 in the full version of the documentary called Demand:
She also appears in a documentary by Al Jazeera called Sex Slaves as part of the series Slavery: A 21st Century Evil. You can see the film here (notice that you can adjust the quality, the quality is set to low by default):
An article (titled: ‘Ik moet nog steeds over een drempel’ written by Marianne Grandia) that was once on the website of the Scarlet Cord (when Toos was 41 years old, she was born in 1964) explains (translated from Dutch into English):
(…)She appears in the article: Toos Heemskerk vindt in straatwerk op de wallen herkenning bij prostituee (11-11-2011, Michiel Bakker, Reformatorisch Dagblad). You can find it here:
Hit in the deepest of heart by the situation of the women who are beautiful on the outside but who are often so hopeless and lonely on the inside, Toos Heemskerk (41) also walks there. Toos knows the red light district like the back of her hand in the meantime, but only looks at that which she comes for: the women. "My heart especially goes out to the girls who have ended up behind the window because of the actions of a loverboy. God has given me so much love for them," tells Toos during another moment in the visitors centre of the Scarlet Cord. "I easily pick out these girls, often because of their tattoos with the names of their 'boyfriends', but also because I recognise something of myself in them. I know their search for confirmation, for the feeling to be allowed to be there, but they search it at the wrong source. Again and again when I see these girls, I think ah, just come here. You are completely on the wrong path."
The recognition of their need for attention and confirmation brings the story back to Toos' youth. 'When my parents migrated with seven children to Brazil, my mother discovered after the embarkation that she was pregnant of me. A more unfavourable moment was hardly imaginable. To make matters worse my mother also became seriously ill and the emigration didn't want to succeed. After one and a half year we had to go back to the Netherlands and we lived, after some rambles, with the ten of us in a very small house. All these things gave a very restless start to my life. My parents started a milk business and we all worked together very hard. But even when I had very kind parents, at a young age I already thought though: I surely mustn't be a nuisance. I wondered if I was allowed to be there, if there was a place for me. During my puberty I searched for and I received confirmation with boys. Not that I went to bed with them. On the contrary; I was way too afraid to really be known. Because to be known could mean that you aren't found to be nice and would be rejected. I had a great fear for that and that's why I ended these relationships after two, three months again."
At the age of 23 Toos departed to Brazil. Partly because of the desire to see her place of birth, but also to work among the street children. "Because of that work I was confronted with the sorrow of this world to such an extent that I wondered where God was in all this, and I developed a critical view of my religious life. Because I actually was raised religiously and I also knew of good works, but of the sacrifice and the mercy of the Lord Jesus I have never understood anything. When I was asked to go out evangelising along with the others, I found this very confronting, because what did I have to offer to these children? Accommodation and bread looked more essential to me; how did the gospel benefit them? When I prayed, I experienced that the prayer didn't go further than the ceiling, when I read the Bible, I fell asleep. But I went along anyway [with evangelising] and there in between all the little glue sniffers and child prostitutes, I listened in to the explanation of the gospel. I heard that you could receive peace with God because the Lord Jesus went to the cross and wanted to forgive us our sins. When I looked at the children, it was clear what kind of sins they had. They stole everything, even my watch still the day before. But how was it for me? That day I came to the realisation that from the outside I was actually different, but from the inside I was exactly the same as them and capable of everything. I suddenly understood that the answer to my questions would be that if I wanted to allow the Lord Jesus into my life and wanted to receive his forgiveness. Then everything would be in a new perspective. And yes, that's what I wanted! I wanted to get to know him and I have prayed with somebody about this. The peace and joy which then came, felt like coming home, for the first time I felt being wanted. This is it, I want to continue with this, is what I knew then."
"For hours and hours I read the Bible and I signed up for two years at the Bible school. In those years I was cured bit by bit of these things which had grown crooked and as a red thread in all I realised more and more: 'I myself don't live anymore, but Christ lives in me' (Galatians 2:20a)
After the Bible school I worked for two years in Israel in a youth hotel and after this I went back to the Netherlands. I had become 31 in the meantime and I wondered what I would be doing. I had enough possibilities, I spoke a number of languages, was single... in short: The sky was the limit.
I decided to temporarily work three days per week in care for the mentally handicapped and to do voluntarily work during the other two days at the youth hotel The Shelter. One floor higher the Scarlet Cord was established and the project manager at that time asks me to evangelise, because they were searching for somebody who spoke Portuguese. I said yes, but I knew nothing of the red light district and I was green as grass.
"The confrontation with De Wallen was shocking. From a rational point of view I knew from God's word that it was good to be here, because all these women are valuable in God's eyes, but emotionally I didn't always cope. Evangelising is not something that you do by feel, but because you know that it is good. I had to learn to make my feeling subordinate to my power of reason. If I had to do it by feel, I can't do it; after ten years I still have to pass a threshold before I knock on the windows. The girls assess everything behind the window, so also me. Some don't want to have anything to do with me and let this be known by way of their gestures. At first I couldn't cope with that because of my fear of being rejected; I wanted to be found nice. But still I knew: I know I have to go ahead, stay loyal, pray and learn to conquer this fear. I decided: even if I come back every day while crying, if this is for God, then I go for it!"
"If we go on the street, we never go alone - always with the two of us. Not as evangelists, but as woman to woman, because the girls aren't waiting for the gospel. They do [wait for] the truth. A girl once said: 'Each week when I saw your walk by, this was the proof money that there were people after all who found that I was worth it.' I always try to leave a little book behind; this will find its way anyway. Because of personal conversations and handing out the little testimony books and Bibles I want to pass on the good message. And I'm pleased the most when somebody gets to know the love of Jesus. Then it's really a celebration, because this is ultimately the love that they search for."
I have translated some bits from Dutch into English:
"After I had gained some international experience for a couple of years, and I had followed a Bible school among other things, I came into contact in Amsterdam with the manager of the Scarlet Cord, Truus den Hartigh. She asked if I wanted to do street work in the red light district among Portuguese speaking prostitutes, because I knew their language. What I saw there - girls who were younger than me slept with men with the age of my father -, I found disgusting. My prayer was: "Lord, I want to do this work, but then you have to confirm to me what my calling is." The next morning I read Jesaja 61 in my silent time. In the first verses it is about bringing a happy message to people who have a broken heart, to prisoners and to bound people. This hit as a bomb, because I encountered them on De Wallen. For me that was a confirmation."Here is another article in which she appears, it is called: Uitbuiting op de Wallen (De Oogst - Maandblad van Tot Heil des Volks Evangelisatie, hulpverlening en profetisch geluid juli-augustus 2010 jrg. 73 860), you can find it here:
What struck you the most in the contact with the women?
"They were girls like me. They were searching for recognition, they wanted to belong to something, be beloved. Their distress was to a large extent my distress. Before I came to the faith, I also found my reason of existence in relationships with boys for a while. Fortunately I had a safe home base with sweet parents, but if my circumstances would have been chaotic, or if I would have never seen my father, I could have fallen for the charms of a loverboy just like that so to speak."
What could you mean for the prostitutes?
"Through listening I slowly but surely gained their trust and I heard their problems. My deepest desire was that in this contact they would experience something of the love of God. This doesn't mean that there would come an end to their distress, that their home situation would improve or that their actual fear of human traffickers would disappear. The problem of human trafficking is too complex for that. My task was to be there, to approach the women as a human being."
What would you say when people shout in the midst of misery: where is God?
"I understand it well that people who have been maltreated since childhood, and who have had an awful life, understand nothing of God. I don't trivialise their distress, and I don't make up a spiritual answer for this. In the Bible I also read about people who are pessimistic about life. Take Lea. Imagine that you are rejected just like that and that you are continuously searching for the love of your husband, but you can't get it, because Jacob never started to love her. There is a lot that I don't understand, but one thing I know for sure: God sees these people and He wants to use us to let them experience this, on account of the fact that we are also practically there for them."
How do you cope with feelings of powerlessness?
"Last year I did research among Hungarian women. Within a short period of time I interviewed 85 prostitutes. I heard so much misery that it strikes into you, a so-called "secondary trauma". In Hungary I have visited the area where they came from. A cesspool of poverty, perversity and corruption. For the first time it became too much for me. I wanted to throw in the towel.
One of the girls was allowed by her pimp to go to Hungary for a week. When after three days she had to go back to Hungary and she refused this, he smashed up the house in which she stayed. She pressed charges, although the police discouraged it. Ultimately this boy was convicted and he was imprisoned for two months. To my surprise the girl sat behind the window in Amsterdam again a couple of weeks later, totally broken. She wasn't able to live with her sister anymore. Applying for a Social Security benefit took half a year, so she had no income. She said: "I have to work mustn't I?"
Her story decided for me among other things to switch over to Not for Sale, to help to tackle the problem at its root. This organisation wants to offer safe shelters and work projects for ex-prostitutes in countries such as Hungary. This is very necessary."
The Christian identity of the Scarlet Cord results in political discussions more than once. How do you look back upon that?
"Many people have a wrong image of evangelisation: you go telling another person what he must do and if he doesn't listen, he receives no help. If this were true, then I also don't want to give subsidy for this. Everybody works from a certain motive. Co-workers of the Scarlet Cord are driven by God's love and are completely transparent in doing this. It surprises me that people who shout the loudest how strong and emancipated prostitutes are, suddenly and urgently want to protect them against a message which people believe in since a long time. Very often women asked me by themselves to pray with them."
Here I present some translated parts from Dutch into English:
A 40-year-old woman from Budapest - she is married and has five children - works at a bank and later on at a post office somewhere else in Hungary. Until she is fired in September 2009. She isn't able to pay the rent of her house anymore and out of desperation she departs to the Netherlands to earn extra money there as a prostitute - because reportedly it is more lucrative in the Netherlands than in her home country. But everything that she earns is lost to fixed expenses, such as the rent of her 'window'. Now she tries to earn enough money for the return trip. As soon as she has it, she departs to Hungary. Without extra money.You can read more about this article here on my blog:
It is only one of the many poignant stories that Toos Heemskerk heard from Hungarian prostitutes on De Wallen. She went through 84 questionnaires with Hungarian women and asked among other things about the expectations which they had of the work in the Netherlands. 'Women come here with the idea that they are able to earn a lot of money', tells Toos. 'Many women do know that they are going to work in the Netherlands as a prostitute. But of the exploitation that belongs to it, they have no idea.'
In the Netherlands pimps decide where the women live and work, which is what has emerged from the research. Many women rent an apartment and pay roughly between 1500 and 1800 euro per month for this. Often they have to share such an apartment with others. One woman told that she rented a room with six other women. These women all paid 1500 euro rent. Above all, they have to pay on average 150 euro per day for their 'window'.
Almost twenty percent of the women whom Toos spoke with, had work weeks of 112 hours. They begin at 13:00 hours and work until five o'clock during the night, seven days a week. Outside the world of prostitution they have no contacts. This is also hardly possible. The women speak no Dutch and their knowledge of English often doesn't go further than little words like 'fuck' and 'suck'.
A large segment of the Hungarian women is Roma and come from Nyíregyháza, one of the poorest cities in Hungary. Many girls grow up there in state institutions, where pimps recruit potential prostitutes. One woman aged nineteen told to Toos that she tried to earn as much money as possible on De Wallen, so that she can get her four little brothers and sisters out of a Hungarian institution and can take care of them.
'In 2000 prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands with the expectation that the sector would come out of the criminal circuit', says Toos. 'But what you see now, is a kind of legal exploitation. Women have their papers in order and have a business plan at their disposal consisting of 35 pages, with which they are registered at the Chamber of Commerce. The business plan is arranged by Hungarian pimps, they themselves don't understand a word of it. We hope that politics will exert more control upon this.' Toos doesn't believe that legalisation of prostitution leads to more control over the sector. 'As a politician you can have the ideal to regulate the prostitution sector, but how do you do that when eighty percent of the women come from abroad? It is difficult to regulate from the Netherlands. In Hungary the work of the police isn't yet so complicated compared to here. There is one team that focuses on human trafficking, but local policeman hardly occupy themselves with this.'
It is difficult for the Scarlet Cord to offer structural help to the women from Hungary. 'The prostitutes don't speak the Dutch language, which causes it to be difficult to find other work for them. Many Eastern European women also aren't allowed to work in salaried employment here. Except for prostitution there is above all no other work with which they can earn enough money to pay for the mountainous rent of the house.'
That's why in the coming time the Scarlet Cord is going to contemplate on the question how she can use her experience to help this group. 'In Hungary there is a strong need for honest and proper prevention', tells Toos. 'I have spoken with the principle of a children's home in Hungary. She had no idea what happens with the girls who were lured by the pimps to the Netherlands.'
Toos experiences it as a big advantage that the Scarlet Cord works from a clear Christian identity. 'Many of the women whom we speak have a religious background.'
The Christian faith gives a basis of trust
That's why there is a natural click between the co-workers of Scarlet Cord and the women. It gives a basis of trust, the women share more with you.'
'The exploitation and human trafficking continues as long as there is demand. You now notice that the social indignation about the practices of loverboys is growing. Why aren't we massively indignant about the abuse and the exploitation that takes place in the world of prostitution? We are proud and happy in Europe that slavery has been abolished. In the meantime we have created a sex market within the European Union at the expense of the most vulnerable people of Europe. Who wants that?'
You can find a PDF document about the Hungarian study on this webpage:
Here's the PDF:
And here is the content of the PDF document:
Amsterdam’s ’Nyíregyháza street’And here's another article: Gebed maakt verschil op de Wallen (Gertjan de Jong, De Oogst, 18/10/2011), you can find the article in these places:
Results of a research carried out by a Dutch social worker among Hungarian prostitutes
Scharlaken Koord – Scarlet Cord
--Departments; Haarlem, Deventer, Utrecht
Reason for research
--Increase of Hungarian prostitutes in Amsterdam (Comensha 2009)
--Victims of trafficking
--Poor condition of window prostitutes
--Submissive, low standards
Goal of the research
--Awareness among Hungarian women that they are going to be in prostitution in the Netherands
--Circumstances of the Hungarian women in prostitution in Amsterdam.
--Expectations compared to the reality in the Netherlands.
--Possibilities of the Hungarian women to get out of prostitution.
Scheme of the research
--Survey with 84 Hungarian prostitutes in Amsterdam by means of questionnaire during a period of 11 days over 8 weeks.
--Working visit to Hungary, interviews with key persons and visiting the prostitution scene.
Nyiregyhaza (45 respondents, 54%)
Budapest (20 respondents, 23%)
Debrecen (7 respondents, 8%)
Szabolcs-Szatmar-Bereg (4respondents, 5%)
Pecs (3 respondents, 4%)
Szeged (3 respondents, 4%)
Gyor (1 respondent, 1%)
Miskolc (1 respondent, 1%)
Motives to come to Holland
Money (60 respondents, 71,5%)
Forced (10 respondents, 12%)
Nice job (2 respondents, 2,5%)
No reply (12 respondents, 14%)
Who organized the travel documents
Boyfriend or pimp (30 respondents, 35,7%)
Woman herself (24 respondents, 28,6%)
Female friend (16 respondents, 19%)
Partner (9 respondents, 10,7%)
Living costs per month (EUR)
€1000 (12 respondents, 25,5%)
€1200 (9 respondents, 19,1%)
€800 (4 respondents, 8,5%)
€2000 (4 respondents, 8,5%)
€900 (3 respondents, 6,4%)
€600 (2 respondents, 4,2%)
€1300 (2 respondents, 4,2%)
€1600 (2 respondents, 4,2%)
€2100 (2 respondents, 4,2%)
€0 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
€500 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
€850 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
€1650 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
€1680 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
€1700 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
€2400 (1 respondent, 2,1%)
Hours in prostitution per week
40-49 (7 respondents, 8,4%)
50-59 (26 respondents, 31,3%)
60-69 (6 respondents, 7,2%)
70-79 (12 respondents, 14,4%)
80-89 (7 respondents, 8,4%)
90-99 (6 respondents, 7,2%)
100-109 (2 respondents, 2,4%)
110-119 (16 respondents, 19,3%)
120-129 (1 respondents, 1,2%)
Arrest 9 pimps
--One pimp ‘earned’ 94.361 euros in approximateley 7 months by exploiting 4 women, average 13.480 euros per month
--Other pimp ‘earned’ 219.7707 euros in 14 months by exploiting 3 women
Expectations compared to reality
Did the expectations you had when you left Hungary match the reality of your life in the Netherlands?
No, but I knew I was going to be in prostitution (69 resopondents, 82,1%)
No, and I didn’t know I was going to be in prostitution (7 respondents, 8,3%)
Yes, my expectations match the reality (7 respondents, 8,3%)
No answer (1 respondent, 1,3%)
--The majority of the Hungarian women are aware that they are going to be in prostitution in the Netherlands
--They are not informed about the actual circumstances
--The reality is completely different than their expectations
--Within one year the majority wants to return to Hungary for different work
I have translated some bits:
The first time on the street was a shocking experience. The pimps, the prostitutes with their desolate expressions, the smell in the brothels - Toos had difficulties getting these impressions out of her mind. 'I am a person of feeling, everything keeps sticking on me. I got bad dreams about the Wallen. I prayed: Lord, only if you confirm that this is good, then I'll go.'Toos Heemskerk also participated in the research done by Frank Bovenkerk, in which she shows some researchers the way. I will translate some parts from the book Loverboys of modern pooierschap (Frank Bovenkerk et al, 2006, by the way, the research was in 2004) (pages 95-107):
In 1998 Truus den Hartigh stopped as a coordinator and Toos started to coordinate the street work. More and more often she came into contact with victims of loverboys. She regularly heard from them: 'If only I had known beforehand that such bad men existed...' 'I saw that these women were emotionally and financially so dependent upon their loverboy, there hardly was a way out for them anymore. It became clear to us that a task lay here for Christians. We had to warn girls who were in danger for the practices of loverboys.'
The street work confronts you with yourself considerably, Toos discovered. 'Between our motives there often is a lot of rubbish. Sometimes I sensed a craving for recognition within me. I wanted others to need me, so that my life was meaningful. I noticed that many women weren't waiting for me and for my good intentions at all. Then you are completely thrown back on yourself: for whom do you do this work actually, for yourself or for God?'
'During some moments the darkness on the street is just palpable. I remember two Bulgarian women who both came to the faith and who wanted to be baptised. One of these women however was married to her pimp, who forbade her to be baptised. He threatened that she wasn't allowed to see her little son anymore. He looked at me, pointed to his wife behind the window and said: "look, that's her destiny". When I looked that man into the eyes, the cold shivers ran across my body. It was as if I looked evil into the eyes. It gave me such a feeling of powerlessness. Sometimes it seems as if the dark forces just win the battle. The Bulgarian woman didn't let herself be baptised, but she did say to me: "I don't know what the future brings for me further, but one thing I do know: I am saved." Humanely speaking there was no happy end to come for this woman, but we must learn to look within the perspective of eternity. Else you don't persevere in this work.'
According to Toos Heemskerk, co-worker of the Scarlet Cord Netherlands, loverboys are very active on De Wallen of Amsterdam. She thinks based on her practical experience that a large segment of the Dutch girls on De Wallen - especially when girls are concerned in the age of between eighteen and twenty - ended up there via loverboys. She bases herself on hundreds of conversations that she and her colleagues had with the girls during the last years. This doesn't mean though that all Dutch prostitutes on De Wallen work under the authority of loverboys. Ultimately quite a number of girls will, when they become somewhat older, work for themselves after all in the long run. But at the start most supposedly end up there via loverboys. At the moment of this part of our research (2004) 17 of the 25 girls who are counselled by the Scarlet Cord are the victim of a loverboy.From page 117:
'I was hired because of my South American background, because in the nineties many prostitutes came from there. After this many women came from Eastern Europe, but that was a very different story. That was mafia. I remember a Czech girl who said to me at the window: "Please help me. Chief wants to kill me." This girl hid the last 50 euro in her vacuum cleaner and she took that. Together with a plainclothes policewoman we picked up that girl from the brothel, two policemen were on the lookout. One floor higher was her pimp and he immediately woke up and tried to call her back. The police walked towards that man and asked for his passport. At that moment a pistol fell out of his clothes on the ground. The police now had the authority to inspect his house and they found an amount of 80,000 euro hidden in his ceiling. This was a trafficker in women and a figure from organised crime! I still knew nothing, but I did realise that this was becoming way too big for us. I was in danger and I went to the manager, who also didn't know what to do with it. From that time on we had protocols for what we can and what we can't do. Later there came a separate Eastern European network. From that moment on I went with a volunteer from Sweden to explore the neighbourhood. Four times per week we walked through the streets and made contact.
In 1996 I started to notice that more and more Dutch girls came to work on De Wallen. Before that time this wasn't the case. When we talked with them these girls told about loverboys and they showed us that the name of their loverboy was tattooed on their body. These weren't girls from Amsterdam, but from Groningen, Zwolle, Harderwijk, you name it. This is perhaps also the reason why the municipality didn't really find it a problem at that time, it weren't girls from the city.' Toos started to feel the need for a wider approach: 'When I saw these tattoos with the names of these men, we realised that we were actually too late already with our assistance. We had to work preventively. Go to high schools to warn girls about these boys. At this moment we give information programs in secondary education, in closed institutions for girls and in asylum seeker centres. This way our project "Beware of loverboys" came into existence.
In the beginning we received little recognition for the problem. All institutions reacted a bit cynically, to be honest. The vice police – Harold van Gelder, with whom we work well together now, wasn't there yet at that time – wasn't interested. The GG&GD neither, but that one has also turned around completely now. In the meantime we saw how these girls completely broke down. They have to rent a room for 85 euro and then their loverboy demands every day yet another 500 euro for example. Before they have earned this, they aren't allowed to go home or they receive slaps. There are girls who work double shifts because at this moment it goes bad in prostitution, or they do all kinds of weird and the most banal things to get that money together.
She also warned that in this world there was much more coercion and violence than somebody can see with a quick glance. 'I came past a window where a girl sat whom told me she was a first-year law student, that she had no problems at all and was there completely of her own free will. Now I don't believe that immediately in any case, not because I want to talk these girls into believing that they have problems, but the reality simply is that they all have a story. Every time that I dropped by she wanted to talk with me. The weeks after this I dropped by on some more occasions, but she just kept on insisting again and again that she had no problems. Then I got acquainted with the girl that worked next to her and who told that her neighbour actually was coerced by a loverboy. She herself was kicked in her belly by her loverboy when she was three months pregnant; her child was literally kicked to death. The law student kept on looking at me after this story and said nothing. Then she suddenly showed her own belly. She was seven months pregnant. And then working! After this came the whole story. Yes, she entered prostitution voluntarily, but her boyfriend had smelled money and he demanded more and more from her. He started to slap her when she came home with too little. There you go again, that's how it is.' For the judiciary this wasn't a loverboy. But Toos also maintained that most girls who work on De Wallen, initially ended up there via loverboys. This is also the case for girls of Moroccan descent; you saw them often in the past, but they are there less often now.
On the third evening on De Wallen we set off with the two of us with Toos Heemskerk of the Scarlet Cord. During our tour by Toos we have the opportunity to talk with girls and we will hear how the girls ended up there. This research technique which we apply now, is described in the handbooks as the controlled observation. What we are talking about is to count the number of cases which satisfy the definition of (victim of) loverboys. Later we will make the same trip again with the police to investigate if it observes the same. During a weekday evening it concerns 20. We ask Toos repeatedly to drop in at [the room of] the prostitute so we can verify it with herself: have you started with working via a loverboy? (But then in more cautious terms.) While the social worker and a female member of our research team step inside, a man of our team lingers at a certain distance. Without being noticed he can observe there very well how a Moroccan little guy makes clear to the prostitute with gestures that this delay mustn't take too long. This observation gets a little aftermath when Toos Heemskerk comes back to it months later. She has become alert after we had told her what we have seen happening behind her back. Later, in one of the narrow prostitution alleys of De Wallen, she ends up in the middle of a row between two women who battle with each other for their client. Usually she would have walked away, this time Toos deliberately kept standing while looking. Other women come from behind their windows to intervene and there's being shouted. Within a couple of minutes a couple of pimps appear in the street, who immediately restore order by chasing the women back into their cubicles. This whole scene has lasted for just a very short time and the police has surely noticed nothing at all, but for Toos it has now become clear that the public order in the prostitution area is maintained by pimps.
During the walk with Toos Heemskerk we are introduced to a multicoloured company of girls. We try to speak to as many Dutch girls as possible - because according to Toos they are especially the victim of loverboys - to get some idea of the reasons why they have ended up in prostitution. Two Dutch girls indicate that they are treated by Pretty Woman and furthermore refuse every conversation. They look very young and pale and both have conspicuous tattoos around their navel. Another Dutch girl tells to have entered prostitution on her own initiative at the age of eighteen. A couple of years later, when she had decided to leave this kind of life, she entered into a relationship with a boy who forced her to continue working as a prostitute anyway. During her relationship with him she was regularly maltreated by him - she was left with ruptured eardrums caused by one of the maltreatments - and he forced her to break three young girls into the profession. Another girl tells to have been picked up one day from school by her boyfriend and to have been brought directly to De Wallen, where he rented a room for her and forced her to work as a prostitute. She finally decides to run away from him, but after ending her relationship she continues working in prostitution. According to what she says she regularly experiences that boys come knocking and offer their services as pimp. According to her there are supposedly many boys active on De Wallen who are bent on letting girls work for them. We speak a girl who now sees herself as the real partner of a pimp and who helps her man to recruit other girls; she is his top woman, all others he calls his 'bitches' (compare the terminology of the gangsta rap like it is heard on MTV). Three Dutch girls whom we visit at the end of the evening, all have conspicuous tattoos on their bodies with names of boys.
We listen especially to the stories which the girls tell. It is clear - or it seems to be plausible from the conversations - that six of the seven girls whom we speak have ended up in prostitution via some sort of loverboy construction. After the first evening we wonder if this is a coincidence. That's why two months later (walk number 4) we set off with Toos one more time to count again how many of the girls we encounter here sit here via a loverboy. The girls whom we see now, are all different girls. The route yields twenty girls of whom it is plausible that they have ended up here via loverboys. In sixteen cases it concerns Dutch girls from the provinces. In one case it concerns an Antillean girl, in three other cases it concerns Belgian girls. These last three have come together with their Moroccan boyfriend from Belgium to the Netherlands to work in prostitution. The gentlemen lodge in a hotel in the city to travel on to another place after a couple of weeks with woman and booty. Two of the girls tell that often they see boys drive past the windows in big cars with laughing young girls in it who gaze at the girls who work in prostitution. The girls are convinced that they, just like what happened with them, will end up behind the windows soon.
During the night we again make a round through the district. The girls who were earlier being pointed to by Toos Heemskerk, are partly the same as the prostitutes whom we encounter with the policeman Mos Florie. We try to walk the same route as much as possible and count the same number of girls whom supposedly work for Dutch pimps as the social worker. On a weekday evening approximately 20 and in the weekend 50. According to the people of the police there are during a weekday between 20 and 25 of such pimps, in the weekend 40 and, given the high mobility, calculated over a whole year as many as 100. During our walking tour through the neighbourhood we encounter at least 10, but it is a cold, weekday night; and we walk together with people of the district [police] team, which probably causes that a segment of the pimps flee for us. Later we will understand that especially the helpers are on the street, many pimps stay inside. With this adjusted image of loverboys we also start to observe differently. The boys and the men whom we earlier have seen hanging around suspiciously, but who weren't so fashionably dressed and good-looking at all, could be pimps after all.You can find some more about the report of Frank Bovenkerk here on my blog:
A translated bit from the article Loverboy weet precies welk meisje hij moet inpalmen (Loverboy knows exactly which girl he has to charm) (Planet.nl, Yuri Visser, August 28, 2007):
Among the Eastern European women who work in Dutch window prostitution, there are also victims of loverboys according to Toos Heemskerk of the Scarlet Cord, although they often come voluntarily to the Netherlands. "Some of these women already work in prostitution in their own country, but there they only earn 5 euro per customer. When they hear that they can earn 50 euro per customer, they sometimes do go [with the pimp(s)]. The nasty thing is that in the Netherlands they directly have a fictive debt with their pimp. The women then have to pay 200 euro per day to them, and above all they pay the rent of the premises, also about 100 euro per day itself. Lately I spoke with a woman from Romania who after working half a year had only earned 100 for herself.And here's a translated bit from the article: Op de Mavo of achter de ramen (EO, Ronduit Insite Magazine, July 11, 2006):
Toos Heemskerk is a co-worker of the Christian organisation for assistance Tot Heil des Volks. She concerns herself about the fate of window prostitutes and works for the project The Scarlet Cord.Toos Heemskerk also wrote an article in English for Al Jazeera, it is called: Slavery: A 21st Century Evil - Trapped by fear: The journey into sex slavery - Some journeys start with 'boyfriends', others with organised gangs - most end up on the streets of Western cities (Toos Heemskerk-Schep, Last Modified: 11 Oct 2011 09:53), you can find it here:
Toos estimates that six out of eight Dutch girls have ended up in the business via a loverboy. Toos: "It emerges from research that victims of loverboys often come from socially weaker or broken families. There was no or a bad father present. Because of the emotional neglect the girls crave for attention. They are insecure and have a negative self image. You regularly see them run away from home and seek out wrong places."
It also turns out that many victims have had to deal with sexual intimidation earlier in their life. Seven out of ten girls whom Toos Heemskerk encounters have had to deal with rape or incest. "Because of this it is a very small step for them to exchange their own body for something beautiful."
Toos draws a shocking conclusion: this background information reveals that many, a great many girls in the Netherlands belong to the risk group.
The Scarlet Cord also shows up in a report by Shared Hope, named: DEMAND. A Comparative Examination of Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Jamaica, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States (2007), which can be downloaded here:
EarningsI also mention Shared Hope in this post on my blog:
The girls will not reveal to whom they give the money. We know that they can make about €500 per night. Those who work for a “loverboy” cannot keep any money for themselves. Those who work for a pimp from Eastern Europe pay about 75 percent to the pimp and keep the rest. I met a girl from Greece who was trafficked by an Albanian man. She made €60,000 for him in one year. She was 17 when she started to work with a fake passport. This information came from a brothel owner. Dutch and East European prostitutes have tattoos with the names of their pimps. This makes it a bit easier for the police, but the pimps don’t realize that. The African girls start off with a debt of €40,000; if she pays that back, she is “free.”
If you calculate that those 237 women all pay €125 per day for a room, and earn about €500 of which, based on evidence, little if any of it is kept by the woman or legally filed for tax purposes. That’s €625 total a day, €3125 per week, a little over €1 million in one year, just from one girl.
Recruitment and Transportation
We obtained information about recruitment from the Dutch and the South Americans and a little bit from the East Europeans, but that was complicated by language difficulties. South American women come to Holland by plane or train through Spain. The average age is over 40. Most of these women have been here for many years, have their Dutch papers and work to keep up their financial needs. Some ladies are over the age of 60.
Africans come by plane most of the time via Western Europe. They fly into Germany and take a train or plane into Amsterdam or Belgium. Most of them work on fake passports. They are a closed group. They like to pray and want to have books and bibles, but will never tell their stories. East European girls are also closed and don’t dare tell their stories to the police. Most of the Dutch girls have come by way of pimps, so-called “loverboys.”
Most girls live in apartments owned by the traffickers with connections in Amsterdam. Most African girls live in the Bijlmermeer. As long as the girl has a pimp she is not free to come and go. You can see that with the Dutch girls, you see them walking with their “protectors”, but the Africans don’t have “protection” around them and they are afraid. The South Americans are free to come and go. But what is freedom if your whole family is relying on your income? These women are always under pressure from their family, parents, or children to provide financially. One woman told me that she resembles a terrorist because she sacrifices her life for her family.
I also wrote about The Scarlet Cord in this post: