“Involve sex workers in policy about the industry” is the opinion of safety specialist Hadeline Vorselaars. Use them as a sounding board for the municipality and let them have a say on the Sex Work Regulation Act. “A stronger sex industry can counteract the side effect of sexual exploitation.”
What makes your work appealing?
“In my years as a Safety Specialist at the municipality of Tilburg, I was allowed to experiment extensively. We had a rather technical prostitution policy, which we transformed into a policy based on improving the position of sex workers. I was given a lot of space to talk to people at the front end about our policy, but also to involve sex workers in it. Talking to sex workers about what is important has not only improved that policy, but it has also enriched me enormously as a person. I meet colorful people who show me a different vision of the world.”
We policymakers do not know that world inside out.
“We policy makers don’t know that world from the inside and don’t know what it’s like to be in it. It’s important to include the perspective of sex workers in policy development and implementation. For example, sex workers don’t always agree with prostitution inspections. Then I say, ‘Just indicate how it can be done differently.’ As long as we are talking, we can see how we can resolve this together. They can then indicate what kind of impact an inspection has. That doesn’t mean that we will always do it exactly as it is proposed, but we can at least indicate why we make certain choices.”
“Thinking together with sex workers about an industry in which there is still room for improvement – take that as an understatement – adds a lot of value for me. We started with a few sex workers who thought with us, and that has now grown into a sounding board group that the municipality listens to seriously. I think it’s great to see that there are now these sounding board groups in other municipalities as well.”
What promising development is still too overlooked in your field?
“The contribution that sex workers themselves can make to countering the stigma that is attached to sex work. In my opinion, many abuses surrounding the sex industry have to do with that negative label. Even if you have ended up in prostitution as a victim of sexual exploitation, you can count on social condemnation. The stigma on sex work perpetuates a lot of misery. As a result, sex workers hardly dare to report violence, for example. By involving them in policy, we can take faster steps to counter that stigma. Let them talk to the city council, so they know how to submit a motion. And with the mayor, so they can present a plan for a non-profit brothel. Again, we can thoroughly disagree in some cases – because, of course, it’s not always peace and harmony – but at least then we can talk about it with each other.”
Sex workers working for themselves do not receive 20 clients in a day
“In the policy for Tilburg, we try to make sex work more visible. In consultation with both sex workers and supervisors, we have established that sex workers who work at their home address for their own money, so without the intervention of someone to whom they have to give their money, do not cause nuisance. I made that point clear in my conversations with, for example, the housing corporation. After all, sex workers who work for themselves do not receive 20 clients in one day. By gaining insight into the industry yourself, you can also show others what is really going on. Sex workers also just work hard for a living, there could be a little more understanding for that.”
Which threat is not getting enough attention?
“The exclusion of sex workers from facilities that are very normal for you and me, like opening a bank account and getting a mortgage or disability insurance. Without a bank account, for example, you can only receive your money in cash. That kind of thing makes a life very complicated, because it is then very difficult to build up an independent position. We have too little understanding of what all that means. Fortunately, with the initiaive of the Sex Work Alliance Destigmatization, something is changing, but many more people need to know about it.”
The sex industry must become healthier from within
“The sex industry has to become healthier from the within. If sex workers can show how they get their money, that it is not money laundering, then they should also be able to claim the facilities that we all have access to. There is still too much of a belief that all sex work is forced, we have gone too far in that.”
Suppose you are at the control panel, what change do you make to be able to take a big step forward?
“Ideally, I would like to give sex workers a real say in what the Regulating Sex Work Act will look like. There has been controversy about that law for so long now, I wonder when the law is going to be there and what it will look like. One of the big sticking points of this law is that sex workers will all have to be registered, something they don’t feel comfortable with because it discriminates and invades privacy. Because of the stigma and the importance that sex workers attach to their anonymity as a result, they don’t want to be registered.”
“Can we make a law that really helps to improve the position of sex workers? A law that also looks at the positive side of involving sex workers in improvements from within. To collectively strengthen the industry and counteract abuses. I would like the law to be less morally charged, because we get into a moral cramp when it comes to sex work. We have identified it as a legal profession, shall we start treating it as such?”
I am surprised by the great mutual solidarity of the sex workers
“As far as I’m concerned, we sweep everything that is currently there from the table and think together about how we can make a good prostitution law that supports policy and contributes to decriminalization and destigmatization of sex work. That it is a legal profession with a decent working position, insurance and so on. A stronger sex industry can counteract the side effect of sexual exploitation. In short, invest in contact with sex workers to get a better idea of what is going wrong and make improvements.”
What important lesson have you learned through your work?
“I thought I was fairly open-minded in life, but when I started this I caught myself being quite judgmental. At the start I wondered how to relate to this professional group, while I always thought I could easily approach everyone and approach them equally. By spending the last 3.5 years working intensively with sex workers, I have started to see things differently. More generously.”
“I have been surprised by the great mutual solidarity of the sex workers. They are very good at thinking creatively and in business terms and outside the box. If they have an opinion, you will know about it and I like that. They are very strong and beautiful people.”
Want to know more about the prostitution policies of municipalities? Please contact Rodney Haan of the Centre for Crime Prevention and Safety, by telephone: 06 51 93 06 31, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or consult the web dossier on prostitution policy on the website of the CCV.