De Hofbar 2019

De Hofbar in discussion about the Sex Work Regulation law

On November 19th, live political talk show De Hofbar talked about the WRS (Sexual Work Regulation) bill. In addition to an escort and former sex worker, they also invited the owner Marike of this high class escort service. Read a little bit more about what's discussed.

The Hofbar in conversation with escort owner Marike, escort Lisa and former sex worker Carmen

Rutger: "More than six million people in the Netherlands have paid for the services of a sex worker. And then the Netherlands is also full of sex tourists every day. What a small country can be big in. The cabinet sees many disadvantages and especially wants some influence to fight abuse such as human trafficking, and therefore is a new bill to obligate sex workers to apply for a permit. We are discussing the Sexual Work Regulation. In particular, it means that a civil servant will soon determine whether or not a sex worker will receive a permit. Sex workers without a permit run the risk of a fine of 20,000 euros. And so the sex workers protest."

Lisa: "I think visibility is very important and therefore I want to show myself to society. That we are there and want rights. I am against the bill and the registration, for an official to determine for me whether I can do this work or not and whether I am self-reliant enough. And if not, I have to do this work illegally. I started sex work because I was looking for a flexible job where I could decide when and how I would do my job. I then started webcam work which I liked so much that I wanted to try new things, now I am an escort. I go to people's homes and visit hotels. I do this work alongside my psychology studies. Everyone around me knows that I do this work, including my parents."

Rutger: "Marike you run a high class escort company in Rotterdam. Are your employees just as open about this?"

Marike: "No, ladies who are a bit younger, early to mid-twenties, keep it hidden from everyone and at most tell a few people. They do this for fear that at a later stage this information will make them blackmailable. When the ladies are a bit older, you see more and more that ladies are open about their work. In the beginning they tell a few girlfriends that they work as an escort, but then more people in their environment."

Rutger: "Do your escort ladies talk about the new bill?"

Marike: "Yes, it has been in the news a number of times so I get questions from the ladies about whether they should apply for a permit now. I then explain that at the moment it is only a bill, that this law is not yet there and that if this bill would pass, we would of course guide them. The escorts are worried about the fact that an official will then determine whether or not they may work as an escort. This official will then look at the self-reliance of the escort, but how could an official determine that? Self-reliance is a very subjective concept. After nearly 14 years in this industry, I cannot yet determine with certainty whether someone is self-reliant. How are you going to test that?"

Rutger: "You will also be registered when applying for a permit. Are the escorts also concerned about their privacy?"

Marike: "Yes, to report to a municipality to obtain a permit for sex work is a lot already. To have a conversation with a stranger about your motivation and self-reliance, is something the escort is not looking forward to. In addition, there have already been a number of large data breaches, including at municipalities, and this is information that should not be out in the open, or people can experience very unpleasant consequences. Nobody can guarantee that such information is guaranteed to be safe."

Carmen: "It is not just about hacking this data, there is also a human factor, namely the officials who come into contact with this information. Civil servants can abuse their status and can be unreliable. It happened to me that my past as a sex worker, more than 40 years ago, came out because a government official was spreading this information. Now all my records state that I am an ex-sex worker, and this hinders me in the work that I do now. And only because a civil servant wanted to take revenge."

Rutger: "This law entails that it pushes sex workers more into illegality, what do you think about that?"

Lisa: "As it now stands in the bill, certain groups, for example persons without a residence permit and persons under 21 years old, can only practice this work in illegality. These are two vulnerable groups that you want to be able to offer help and access to care. They are excluded, just like sex workers who do not want to register because this registration entails risks."

Marike: "I think they will disappear out of sight. There are already many alternatives, such as websites on which sugardaddy arrangements are set up. These websites are being misused as a prostitution platform. That will only increase. There is no visibility whatsoever on these platforms and that results in a very shadowy and risky situation. Much riskier than with a licensed company for example."

Lisa: "If you work together, you are much stronger, at an escort agency the ladies receive tips. You exchange things, such as how you can deal with certain difficulties."

Rutger: "I spoke about this with Anne Kuik from the CDA. And asked her if she would prefer not to simply cancel the entire industry. In her opinion, 90% of sex workers work under pressure and this is a good way to combat that. The 10% who supposedly do the work voluntarily and with pleasure are less important, according to Anne Kuik."

Lisa: "Those 90% figures, just look up where those figures come from because what she says is not right. She also says she wants to help involuntary sex workers, but so much research shows that extra regulation and legislation does not help. If this bill would really help against coercion, everyone would be happy to cooperate, but that is not the case."

Carmen: "I worked as a director of the Livingroom at the Utrecht street walking area for six years. Street walking areas were appointed because the sex workers were being abused and it was very difficult for police and assistance to help the sex workers. When the street walking areas arrived, where legal tipping was allowed, this assistance could take place, making the sex workers much safer."

Rutger: "I assume that other type of ladies are street walkers than the type working with Marike, who runs a high class escort agency. Let those ladies bear the burden of the new bill, so that human trafficking can be combated."

Marike: "If that were really the reward, then of course we would. But this bill is based, among other things, on figures that I believe are incorrect. Criminalizing is almost never in favor of a sex worker and that is what is going to happen now. If this law comes into force, the already licensed companies will mainly suffer. In my opinion, the chance of coercion is much smaller at a licensed sex company, but it is precisely these companies and legally working independent sex workers that will be exposed to extra laws and regulations. I think this law only creates extra burdens for companies and sex workers where things are already going well."

Rutger: "Yet there is also good news. I spoke to Ferd Grapperhaus today and he told me that if there are still justified objections from the industry, he is willing to talk to them personally."