In the previous post I have brought the attention to her moral support of parents and husbands pushing their children and wives into prostitution, her claims that people who say they have been raped or forced into prostitution are comparable the people who say they have been abducted by extraterrestrials, that alleged forced prostitutes lie to the police in order to stay out of prison, her defense of the right of people to be treated badly, her claim that abusive male pimps didn’t exist until the prohibition just before the start of the twentieth century, and her claim that forced prostitution is not an epidemic.
I want to shift focus now to another claim she has made, namely, her denial that forced prostitutes don’t have the guts to go to the police or tell the police that they are coerced. I say that this is patently false! I will spread out my criticism of this claim over several blog posts. I want to quote Maggie McNeill first to illustrate my point. (She attacks Ruth Messinger here who believes that people have the right to work in prostitution, but who also believes in the existence of forced prostitution):
By pretending there is a bright, clear demarcation between choice and coercion, as though all sex workers were either “happy hookers” or miserable, passive, pathetic slaves, Messinger throws the door wide open to neofeminist inanities such as “false consciousness”, to government demands for licensing and registration, to detention of foreign sex workers, to denying the agency of those who choose to migrate even when they know or at least suspect their conditions will be harsh, to myths about “Stockholm syndrome” and women “afraid to testify against their traffickers”, to imposition of politically-determined definitions of “coercion” and to endless debates about what fraction of sex workers are “coerced”, how to determine whether they are and whether police must accept their word that they aren’t.Okay, now I want to counter her claim.
I first want to start with a book written by Henk Werson, a human trafficking expert at the Korps Landelijke Politiediensten (National Police Corps). He was and is involved in police investigations into big forced prostitution cases in and outside the Netherlands. The book is named De Fatale Fuik (The Fatal Trap) and it was published in 2012. In this book he describes some forced prostitution cases that the has investigated in his career. Two particular cases are interesting regarding the issue if forced prostitutes dare to speak out, because such a great number of women were involved in these two particular cases. I will quickly describe these two cases as he describes them is his book. I will actually describe more cases in his book in later posts (or else you will get a tldr = too long didn't read).
In the first case two pimps, a Russian and a Pole (whom he calls Andrej and Petrov his book) force women into prostitution. In 1995, Henk Werson stumbles upon them by accident because there were threats made by Albanian criminals to murder Andrej due to some conflict about real estate. Henk Werson was ordered to prevent this from happening. Telephone conversations are wiretapped and by accident the police discovers that Andrej threatens a prostitute (called Samantha in the book) to nail her nipples to the wall, if she doesn’t do what he asks her to do. (It turns out that she started a relationship with a client without the permission of Andrej). The police listens more and more to wiretapped telephone conversations and they discover that many women are in the grips of the two pimps Andrej and Petrov. They can hear women - who have been brought into prostitution by Andrej - talk with fellow victims about what happened to them. When the police everntually discover that Samantha's breasts have actually been pierced, they decide to organize a raid. The police raid the brothels and ask the women who of them are connected to Andrej, 38 women (!!!) present themselves. The women work throughout many brothels (7 approximately). Just think about it, these two guys exploit at least 38 women, just with the two of them. Okay, they had help from at least one Dutch brothel owner, so that would make it three.
Now what did these women say to the police? For Henk Werson this was his first forced prostitution case, and he and other police officers expected that the women would be happy that they were finally rescued. Henk Werson explains that 90% of the women said they worked voluntarily in prostitution.
Henk Werson mainly focuses on the stories of two women in the chapters in which he describes this episode. These women he calls Samantha and Ariëlle. Samantha was the woman whose breasts had been pierced. Samantha and Ariëlle were lured from Russia to the Netherlands by Andrej in a more classical human trafficking way: they didn’t know that they were going to work in prostitution. Typically, a lot of exploited or forced prostitutes initially chose to work in prostitution, but they weren’t aware of the conditions. But Samatha and Ariëlle thought they were going to work as models. Initially they were treated with great respect by him, and he even trumped up a beautiful lady to tell them about being a model etc… They were brought straight to a sex club in the south of the Netherlands, of which the brothel owner cooperated with Andrej and Petrov. As soon as the two women discovered that they had to work in prostitution, they refused. Both were raped by Andrej and Petrov. Then they ceased their opposition.
Andrej tried to keep them motivated by offering them 25% of the earnings. But first they had to pay off a debt of 3000 guilders. The brothel owner gave them fines of 25 guilders per transgression. When a client complains, they receive a fine. The women tried to act as if they liked their work in order to earn as much money as possible.
As it turned out after the 38 women had been interviewed, even the female friend of Samatha, Ariëlle, said she worked voluntary. Only Samatha vaguely hinted that she was exploited, after she was confronted with the wiretapped telephone conversation in which she said her nipples had been pierced. This could be used as a start for an investigation. She had severe pain and the police brought her to the hospital. Henk Werson explains that they were very confused by the reactions of the women, and they seriously started to doubt if they got it all wrong from the start. Later, after the story goes around that the police can be trusted, four other women presented themselves because they realized you can work together with the police and trust them. But even after Andrej and Petrov are arrested, 90% of the women don’t dare to speak out.
Andrej denied he was a women trafficker, and that he forced women to work in prostitution. A woman showed up in court who said she was treated well as a prostitute and that he was no human trafficker. But to be short and sweet, he was sentenced to two years and three months in jail. After 1,5 years he was released. In 1997 he was arrested again for human trafficking and received a 6 year jail sentence. Petrov had been extradited to Germany and was sentenced for three years regarding a forced prostitution case there.
Henk Werson tells more stories about forced prostitutes in his book. Another story is about Simona, a Ukrainian woman who has worked in prostitution since the age of 14. Henk Werson tells that he is surprised that Simona tells the most horrific stories while she is shouting of laughter. Henk believes this is a survival strategy. The period when the ordeal happened in the Netherlands was not very long after the arrest of Andrej and Petrov. It was around 1996.
She worked in prostitution because her fatherless family couldn’t earn enough money. At first they could live off the earnings of her brother who was a criminal. But because the income flow started to halt she decided at the age of 14 to work as a prostitute. At first she was pimped by her brother and his friends. Her brother subcontracted her exploitation to his friends. She didn’t yet know that he was behind all this. She was treated very badly by them. She was once raped by a client and several times was forced by her pimps to undergo an illegal abortion. At one point she was beaten up by them because they found out that she also worked for herself in another area, so she could earn extra money to take care of her sick mother who had cancer. That’s when a pimp called Milko approached her and offered her to work for him. She was 26 at this point. He took care of her while she recuperated from her injuries and offered her to go to the Netherlands where she could work in sex clubs. She had to pay back 4000 guilders to Milko as a part of the deal.
En route to the Netherlands she was anally raped by Milko. In the Netherlands she was introduced to two men called Gustav (a German) and Peter (a Dutchman). Brothels in the north of Limburg had become more careful since the arrest of Andrej, and they didn’t want to allow prostitutes exploited by pimps in their brothels anymore. Gustav and Peter drove with Simona to several brothels and Simona had to approach the brothels on her own. After several rejections she was accepted in brothel number 4. The female brothel owner Lisa didn’t trust the situation and she asked Simona how she ended up there. Simona told her the story that she had been busy for months to acquire a passport and visa, and that she had travelled to the Netherlands by train. She had been instructed by Milko to tell this. The only part that was true was that she had nothing to lose due to her family situation. Lisa told that the police came to check the passports of the women. Simona became afraid and told that in the Ukraine the police worked together with the pimps. Lisa told that this didn’t happen here in the Netherlands, that they checked the passports and if the women worked under good conditions. Lisa didn’t want pimps in her club. Lisa accepted Simona to work in the brothel. Simona was surprised by the friendly atmosphere in the club between the girls. She wasn’t used of this in the street prostitution areas in Kiev.
The pimps Milko, Gustav and Peter regularly visited the club as clients, where they took the money that Simona earned. After two months Milko started to complain in the club that she earned too little, only 1000 guilders per week. In a room in the brothel Milko started to shout at her and he hit her in the face. He reminded her of the anal rape and said that she was a goldmine if she would offer her anus to clients. This quarrel alarmed Lisa because obviously she could hear it happen, and she called in the police. Simona tried to explain to Lisa that this was all a misunderstanding. Two policemen came and Simona thwarted them by telling them that she was homesick and that she missed her mother.
She collapsed and couldn’t work for three days. Milko was very angry, and in the club he gave her several blows and then he left. Lisa came and told Simona that a client wasn’t satisfied about her. Simona started to cry and explained the situation. She was very afraid that if Lisa knew she had a pimp she would be thrown out of the brothel. If she didn’t earn enough money Milko would report her to the police, and she was very afraid what Milko would do to her mother. She felt she was cornered.
As a punishment Gustav and Peter went to the brothels as clients, and in a room they vaginally, orally and anally raped Simona. Lisa and another prostitute (Maria) heard her screams and hurried to her room. Lisa tried to pursue Gustav and Peter but they were already gone. The police had been warned, and they also searched for Gustav and Peter, with no success. Simona told the police that they were just annoying clients and she rejected Lisa’s offer to tell her story in the police office. She went to bed and started to cry. Maria could hear it and she told Simona that she would keep harassing her if she didn’t tell Maria what was going on. She told Maria her story, but she convinced Maria to keep her mouth shut because she had to work only four weeks more to earn enough money for her mother.
The following week passed quietly, and then Milko showed up again in the club. Lisa asked him to leave, and then he gave her several blows when she tried to phone the police. He told Simona that she had broken her agreement. If she left the club without giving him his rightful money he would follow her mother. He would keep an eye on her. While he left the club he screamed that they were all a bunch of whores, and that they were not yet set free from him, and that he would come back. Lisa wanted to know what was going on, but the first clients came. Simona wasn’t able yet to have sex with clients because her vagina and anus were too badly hurt, so she offered clients other services. When Lisa wanted to close at four a clock, Milko kicked the door open, and Lisa fell against the wall and then on the floor. Milko grabbed Simona by her throat and told her that the next time he would come back she had to give him 1250 guilders per week on top of her regular debt. If she wouldn’t give him this amount of money he would deal with Simona and her mother. And he would also hurt her brother because he had sold her to Milko. He then grabbed Lisa by the hair and told her that Simona was his and that she would be hurt if she would trick him, and he spat her in the face. Obviously the other women in the brothel were very scared. Lisa phoned the police and two police officers came, they searched for Milko without success. Simona told Lisa that Milko had indeed arranged some things for her in Kiev and that he was of the opinion that she owed him money.
Under the pressure of Maria, Simona told her story to Lisa. Lisa called in the human trafficking team and told Simona’s story to them. Simona found shelter in Lisa’s house. Milko showed up again in the club and dragged Lisa by her hair searching for Simona. Everybody told him that Simona wasn’t there. He left a trail of destruction in the club. This made Simona decide to tell her story to the police herself, because she didn’t want others to let them bleed for her.
Henk Werson and his colleague were very surprised that she so openly told her story, because they weren’t used to that of victims of forced prostitution. The story went around among other victims of Milko that the police could be trusted and now also other women presented themselves to the police to tell about Milko, Gustav and Peter. This was a big breakthrough for Henk Werson and his colleagues, because until then they had to dig very deeply to unearth abuses, but now victims of human trafficking reported themselves out of their own initiative. Their stories were similar to Simona’s story: Milko came with a beautiful story, he gave some money in advance, and the moment they arrived here Milko revealed himself as a brutal pimp. Gustav and Peter walked by to act as bogeymen when the earnings started to dwindle. Their trademark: to put you under the shower and beat you with wet towels. Extremely painful, but it doesn’t leave any traces.
During a year they speak with over a hundred women who have been put to work in the south of the Netherlands. First an informative conversation to establish if they are victims of human trafficking and to inform them about their rights and duties. Almost half of them pull out, because of fear of Milko and his henchmen. At the end, sixty are left for a hearing or to press charges. The story ends when Milko is arrested and he receives a 6 year prison sentence. And Henk Werson and a team of officers have a kind of James Bond style adventure in the Ukraine when they have to leave a building because they are about to be liquidated by friends of Milko. They meet Simona in her flat where she still works as a prostitute,
Okay, just think about it. These three guys exploited over a hundred women during one year! Just with the three of them. The gangs described in this book exploited a lot of women compared to others, because usually a couple of pimps exploit a couple of women. Saban B and the notorious Gang of De Miljardair are exceptions because they exploited so many women. Saban B’s gang exploited over 100 women (120 were identified) in the red light districts of the Netherlands, and the Gang of the Miljardair reportedly exploited 3000 women in their clubs. But Saban B’s gang consisted of 30 people, so they needed a big gang to accomplish this. That Milko and Andrej could exploit so many people with such tiny gangs is amazing.
I think Henk Werson’s book is important to illustrate that victims of forced prostitution are very reluctant to open up, contrary to what Maggie McNeill claims. Usually it takes a lot of effort to gain their trust.
Henk Werson also explains in the book that nowadays the police aren’t allowed to let forced prostitution continue when they know it happens. When I read this again, I can now understand why the police raided red light districts throughout the Netherlands. Because of all the bad signals by prostitutes, social workers and others who are familiar with the red light districts, the police just cannot stand by and wait. But it turns out to be a useless exercise because potential victims are reluctant to open up. In 2011, after a huge police raid in the Doubletstraat in The Hague (a window prostitution street) all the prostitutes said they worked voluntarily in prostitution. This is indeed very confusing, because, is it true that they work voluntarily? Or are the women just too afraid? In my opinion, this denial by prostitutes of being coerced or exploited cannot be a direct reason to believe that forced prostitution is rare or nonexistent in the Doubletstraat. The situations which Henk Werson has described is proof to me that it is just possible that it does occur a lot in the Doubletstraat, but for whatever reasons the women just don’t speak out. Still I am surprised, I would have expected that at least 1, 2 or 3 would have opened up still.
In light of this post, I also like to refer to a survey among Cambodian prostitutes which Maggie McNeill refers to. Less than 2% said they had been forced. I will quote from Maggie McNeill’s blog who quotes from Cheryl Overs:
The third, and perhaps most subtle, problem with this rhetoric is its philosophical bankruptcy and appeal to bigotry. The Australian activist Cheryl Overs has already expressed this much more effectively than I could:This is used by Maggie mcNeill and Cheryl Overs to show that forced prostitution is rare. If it is true that many forced prostitutes don’t say they are forced, this 2% could in reality be a lot higher, so their proof is not valid. You apparently have to be very patient before prostitutes open up. A one-time interview won't reveal much.
…even in that overstudied “hotbed of sex trafficking” Cambodia, the only credible study [showed that] less than 2% of sex workers say they had been sold or coerced (CACHA 2008). How might this compare to the percentage of married women who were forced into marriage – even in the “hotbeds” of forced marriage? What percentage of gay men have been forced into sodomy? We don’t know, but clearly both happen. But it would be absurd to preface the words “bride” and “gay man” with “willing” or “consenting”. Can you imagine reports that say that condoms should be distributed to “consenting homosexuals”? Can you think of anything more absurd, more homophobic or more stigmatising? Can you think of anything more absurd than describing Kate Middleton as a “willing bride”? Positioning “willing” and “unwilling” doesn’t contribute to justice for people who have been raped, beaten [or] imprisoned in the course of either marriage [or] homosexuality and no one would suggest that. Nor would anyone suggest that rejecting the terms “willing brides” and “consenting homosexuals” amounts to a denial that those things happen. Yet this is exactly what the trafficking paradigm sets out for sex workers…
This falls outside of the scope of this post, but I also want to mention that Henk Werson tells that pimps have changed tactics in the meantime. At first they often used violence, but nowadays they make the women dependent upon the them without necessarily using violence.
During the next post I will talk about the Gang of the Miljardair (and possibly Saban) to further illustrate that few victims of forced prostitution will go to the police. One hint: of the 3000 women who had been exploited by them, only 50 told their story to the Dutch police, and 80 to the (Dutch) Foundation against trafficking in women. (EDIT: it seems that I am slightly mistaken here. The 3000 women were imported across several European countries, not only the Netherlands, so this way of reasoning fall apart. But I will write extensively about the Miljardair gang in the next post anyway. This will take time because I have to reread several books, and because there is a lot to tell.)
I will also tell about Saban B and his gang. Of the 120 identified victims, only 17 made a statement or pressed charges. By I will clarify it in the next post(s). Oh, I will also talk about some other cases in Henk Werson’s book later. (EDIT: what I say about Saban seems to be correct)
PS: I believe one criticism that you can have against me is that the 38 women who Andrej exploited and the more than 100 women who Milko exploited weren't all treated badly by them. Perhaps some were treated very badly, but others were treated well. This is theoretically possible. But this is less likely in the cases of Saban B and the Gang of the Miljardair. But I will explain that in the next posts.
The next part is here: