The Rode Draad is a sexworkers'rights organization. It may seem strange that we concern ourselves with traffic in persons. After all, sexworkers rights is not always seen as part of fighting trafficking in women or persons. I will give a brief description of our view on trafficking. And I want to present our fieldwork as a an emancipatory approach to the problem of trafficking.
Once people start to talk about trafficking they seem to imply that the victims of this heinous crime are mostly women, or children who were virtuous as far as they never would have wanted to enter prostitution. In this sense they hardly ever talk about male victims but stress that the innocent part of the population, personified in the notions children and women, are as naïve to listen to the vicious promises of mostly men. It never occurs to these people that also women can be guilty of trafficking. This version of trafficking is never reflected in the laws against trafficking. Still it is a quite common popular myth. We are often hassled by the media with the request to procure an innocent victim. Even in the courtroom the lawyers of traffickers try to prove the victim is not so innocent as she claims to be. Imagine, it is no problem that someone took away your passport, abused you, took away your freedom of movement, just because you are not a virgin or worse, you were once paid for sex.
Until recently the law against trafficking in the Netherlands did not exclude voluntary sexworkers from being considered a victim of traffic. A woman who willingly entered prostitution could be forced to do that in circumstances she did not want. The keywords are working in a relation of dependency in slavery like conditions.
Moreover the law changed. The crime of trafficking was renamed. It was no longer the crime of trafficking in women, but trafficking in persons. In other words, the victim of the crime of trafficking could be a man. That is not a joke, it took people a long time to recognize male victims. Even now, after a years of this name change, there are not enough safe houses for male victims.
But what’s more. Last year, due to the Palermo protocol, another change was made in the law: it did not concern just people who worked under slavery like conditions in prostitution, but it was also extended to other professions, like construction work, agricultural slavery and the drudgery in sweatshops. I am touching on this because a very important thing was gained by this: sexwork was considered work.
So, in sum, what do we consider doing sexwork in slavery like conditions, or in other words, in conditions of human right abuse. There is still some debate about it but there is some consensus about it:
First of all, it is working in conditions that violate the autonomy of the human body. This is the case when someone is forced into prostitution altogether…, mind you that also still happens, but also in conditions where one is not at liberty to refuse clients, to quit the job for the hour, the day, the week or altogether. This violation of the autonomy of the body (integrity of mind and soul in technical terms) is also the case when a sexworker is not able to choose the kind of services she rends or is forced to deliver unsafe sexual services.
But you might say, is a woman who has to work five hours a day but wants to work four hours a day, a victim of trafficking? Most people would say, no, she is a victim of the violation of labour laws but not a victim of the very serious infringement of human rights, that is involved in the crime of trafficking. There also has to be an element of economical exploitation, like having to hand over the major part or all the money a person makes. And usually an element of slavery like conditions is working long hours, bad housing like sleeping on the workfloor and little say in what to do during the few hours off. In other words, not having a life of one’s own apart from the job.
Now there is a problem. Some of you may realize that the working conditions sketched above hold good for let us say 90 percent of the sexworkers in your country. I realize this thanks to Aras, Parasol, La Strada, Tada and the Health Outreach and Bhata in the Eastern European countries my colleague and I visited. Part of this is caused by the laws and the enforcement of these laws by corrupt policeman in this countries. In other words, most sexworkers in many countries suffer human rights abuses. And I know that, because of these laws, your only possibility to do reaching out is under the flag of health education. And by the way I admire the way you make the most of this.
Now back to the Netherlands. I know how lucky we are that we don’t have to operate under the flag of health education. Health education is done by professionals and we don’t see any reason why we should meddle with the excellent job they do. So we can concentrate on working conditions. That means a totally different approach to outreaching work. One of our main concerns is working conditions, as to payments etcetera. It also means that we are less popular with the brothel owners than the health educators. The latter have to secure their entrance and most brothelowners are happy with their contribution. We on the other hand discuss the way they treat the women financially,. Their management etc. In other words, we can afford it to oppose the brothelowners. And yes, they sometimes kick us out. You must see it this way: a company nurse in a regular company is not supposed to fight for better wages, that is done by the trade union. In analogy, we are a kind of trade union. So what do we do: we give information about rights: like you are not supposed to work 24 hours a day, or non stop, you don’t need to pay a pimp, you can ask money for drinking champagne, you can refuse clients, in your spare time you are free to do whatever you please etc. etc. We have that information in lots of languages.
We join the demand of the international sexworkers' rights movement: sexworkers' rights are human rights, labour rights and civil rights.