Working hours
A lot of times I see articles coming out in the media stating or suggesting that the office we work for (exploitant in Dutch), is taking advantage of us. They give people the impression that the office works together with pimps, that they're criminal, that they launder money for the pimps, and the they exploit the girls and force them into contracts to work long hours a day, many days a week etc.
This also gives people the impression that when girls work many days a week, or long hours a day (or both), that these are the women that are being forced to prostitute themselves. Or sometimes even suggest that the contracts the office offers to girls are so bad, that only the forced prostitutes remain.

A good example of this was an article a couple of weeks ago in a Dutch newspaper called Het Parool (article can be found here). The article's headline, roughly translated as: 'Strangling-contracts scare off free working prostitutes', give the impression that the offices work with contracts that have such bad policies, that no right minded prostitute would even want to work for them, and that only the forced prostitutes are forced by their pimp to agree with these contracts.
The article writes: 'Because of the shortage of windows, caused by the cleaning up of the Red Light District, offices can work with strangling-contracts, which leaves women no room but to rent their room for 7 days a week, 12 hours a day.' Indeed, it's true that there is a shortage of windows. The Gemeente of Amsterdam has closed down many windows already (or should I say bought?), because according to them '...under every stone we turn around we find vermin... ' as former alderman Lodewijk Asscher claimed. Their believe was that the Red Light District in Amsterdam was full of crime, which according to him was caused by the many coffee shops and brothels in the famous Red Light District. Money laundering, illegal activities, drug dealing, human trafficking, etc. Now, besides the fact that they never found any of these 'vermin', they lost every single court case against the brothel owners (our offices), and the fact that the biggest adviser to Lodewijk Asscher at the time, Patricia Perquin, turned out to be a scammer, that didn't stop them from trying to reduce the number of prostitution windows in Amsterdam. They bought windows from several offices (because they couldn't prove any of the accusations they made before), with the idea to replace prostitution with what they described as 'creative businesses'. The businesses that now occupy the former prostitution windows are fashion designer (if you can call that fashion), cheese shops (like we don't have enough of those), a radio station, etc. Funny enough, most of these companies don't pay rent (or very little) because their companies are hugely unsuccessful, but simply occupy the buildings until more successful businesses take their place. In fact, the project to clean up the Red Light District has been such a disaster for the Gemeente Amsterdam, that they're partners who bought the windows have decided to quit the project, and therefore Amsterdam is now looking for new partners.

What isn't true however, is that offices doesn't have any 'strangling-contracts' as this article suggests. The article talks about a contract where a girl needs to rent a room for at least 7 days week and 12 hours a day. This is simply not true. I work for one of the biggest offices in the Red Light District, and know also many girls who work for other offices. The offices rent out rooms per shift, one day and one night shift. The girl can choose which shift she wants to work, either the day or the night shift, or if she wants to she can work both shifts, but of course she'll also have to pay for both shits as well in stead of one, with a maximum of 12 hours a day. Since no men are allowed in the office, this only leaves the prostitutes themselves to decide when and where they want to work, and for how many hours a day. So it's impossible for a pimp to even talk to the office, since they're not even allowed in the office in the first place at all. So the idea that pimps and offices work together, or that the office launders the money for the pimps is simply ridiculous.

Most of the girls who work in the Red Light District in Amsterdam have a permanent room. This means they have one room that's theirs, until they choose to leave or quit. For these girls the office gives you the ability to take one or two free days a week, meaning you don't have to pay for your room in the days you're free.
On top of that, the office I work at for instance, gives the girls also two months vacation without having to pay the rent for the room for that period, and when she comes back the room will still be hers. Of course she can take more vacation if she wants to, but if she wants to keep her room, she'll still have to pay her rent for that period. In my opinion two months of vacation a year is more than enough, and more than most people with a normal job get.  I also don't know many agencies of apartments which offer you the ability to skip one or two months or rent when you go on vacation, and neither do I know any agencies which don't demand payment of rent even if a shop is closed for a certain period of time.

Of course there are women that do work 7 days a week, or 12 hours a day, and there are some good reasons for that. Many of the girls who come here for the first time in Amsterdam they don't get a permanent room from the office from the first day. Not because the office doesn't want to, but simply because most of the rooms are taken already by other girls. There are simply more girls than there are rooms, and of course the Gemeente Amsterdam made sure there are now even less rooms than there where before, which are now filled with such enrichment's as fashion designer stuff, cheese shops, but many of them are also still empty. Way to go Amsterdam! There are girls who don't have a room, and are willing to pay for them, but you're just giving away these rooms to people who don't even pay rent for it most of the times!
But what do you do when all the rooms are taken by other girls, and you can't get a room? Well, the answer is simple, you do nothing. You wait until one of the other girls have a free day, go on vacation or quit the job. So for a lot of girls, every day is about waiting until the office can tell you if they have a free room for you or not. The bills however don't stop, they still need to be payed, even if you work or not. So if you can get a room for both day and night, and you're not sure if you can get a room for the rest of the week, you'll take that room. And since the rooms are rented out by day, in stead of by week or month, every day is for a lot of girls a new gamble. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes you don't. And since you don't know if you'll be working today, this week, or maybe even this month, you'll take any chance you can get to work!
Sometimes someone goes on vacation, which means another girl can take that room for that period. But because she doesn't know if she can work after that other girl comes back, she'll try to work all the days that she can, even if that means 7 days, since she could be out of work the next week.
What people have to remember, is that window prostitutes all have their own company. So basically every prostitute is also her own business owner, and like with many businesses you don't have a fixed income, since you don't have a company that pays you. So if the times are good, you can make a lot of money, but if the times are bad, you also don't have any income and you can even loose money on the rent. As a business owner you take a risk, that risk is to be without income if the work is bad, and the same thing applies to prostitutes in the Red Light District, because they're also business owners.

And the article talks about contracts, which is kinda weird, since nobody really has any contracts. The contracts they are talking about in the article are not real contracts, but rather more house rules and rental conditions for renting a window. It's not like if you sign for these rules that you're stuck to a contract or somthing, like how it works with many other contracts. Some people say that our offices should post these on the internet for everyone to take a look at, but in my opinion that's ridiculous. How many companies place their house rules for employees on the internet? Or how many companies place their employer contracts on the internet? First of all, many offices in the Red Light District don't even have a website, and why would they? Just to prove to people that their rental conditions are valid? And even if their rental conditions would be valid online, than we still get people claiming that the prostitutes don't get the same conditions as on the website. In other words, it doesn't solve a thing. Plus, when the police come to check our papers, we also have to show them the rental conditions, so if something would really be wrong, the police would've noticed it already.
But of course, the real question is, is there a problem in the first place at all? And why does everything related to prostitution always have to be treated different from other industries? It's not like logistic companies are posting their contracts online for everyone to see, and a lot of human trafficking happens in those industries as well with truck drivers for instance. So why should prostitution companies be treated any different?

The next part of the article talks about an initiative for prostitutes to begin their own corporation. Ilonka Stakelborough, founder of foundation Geisha, an organisation aimed at improving the position of sexworkers, talks in the article about her attempt together with the city of Amsterdam to set up a corporation for prostitutes. She says: 'The concept is great: much more independence, make more money, be the boss over your own working times and being able to decorate the rooms yourself. Wouldn't that be a great improvement?'
Yes, indeed it would be a great improvement, but the problem is that we already have all of these things. We as prostitutes are already independent, since we are business owners ourselves, and we don't have contracts like this article suggests. We can go when we want, where we want, how we want. Don't know what can be more independent than that? Secondly, we already can decide on our own working times, like I've already talked about here above. 
But what I fear more is this idea of a corporation. We've already seen what happened in Utrecht, where the prostitutes set up their own corporation after their office got closed down by the Gemeente Utrecht. The Gemeente Utrecht promised them that if they would start up their own corporation, they could get a permit quickly, so they could go back to work as quickly as possible again. But now, more than 6 months after they started their own corporation, they still don't have their permit and the Gemeente Utrecht keeps changing the rules for getting one (as can be read in this article). Interesting to know, is that it was the Gemeente Utrecht their own suggestion to the prostitutes to start up their own corporation after the office there closed down. 
In my opinion it sounds a little bit like a Trojan Horse. Convince all prostitutes to be part of a corporation, and once they are, don't give them a permit and you've successfully erased prostitution in your area. And even if they ever get a permit, this could take years, and cost a lot of money. So I don't fully believe this idea of a corporation is better, especially not when it comes from the Gemeente of Amsterdam in our case, which has only been busy these past years with closing it down.

The next part of the article continues with Ilonka talking about Eastern European prostitutes. It reads: 'If you're not forced, you don't work that many hours a day, so when you don't work, and you still have to rent the room for 7 days a week and 12 hours a day, that costs money. That means that mostly Eastern European women are behind the windows, who work long hours, are very cheap and are willing to do it without condom. A free working sexworker cannot fight against that. Indirectly, forced prostitution is being promoted this way.'
Now a large part of this, about the working hours, I've already covered in the part above. But what is interesting to read, is  that apparently for Ilonka there's a difference between free working prostitutes and Eastern European prostitutes. In her idea apparently most of the Eastern European prostitutes (which consist mainly out of Romanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian prostitutes, of which Romanian is the biggest group together with Bulgarians) are forced, work cheap and don't use a condom. Funny enough it is this group of prostitutes, the Eastern European girls, that pick their customers. If they would be forced they wouldn't be so picky, since they'd be more scarred of their pimp. Another funny thing is that most of the girls I know never go under the minimum price of 50 Euro, in fact they often charge more money for their services. And for sure there are some girls out there that do it without protection, this is however not the majority, since every girl knows the danger of unprotected sex. I get many guys asking for unprotected sex, they go from door to door, all night long, looking for a girl that is willing to do it without a condom. They usually come back several times to you to ask if it's really not possible without a condom. Now, if the claim is true, that so many girls are willing to do it without a condom, than how come these guys keep going in circles all night long looking for a girl that does this? Shouldn't it be easy for them to find a girl who does it without a condom, if there are so many Eastern European women who do that? Than why do they keep coming at my door all night long, going from my door to the next one?
I know the girls from my country, many of my friends are Bulgarian, I know Hungarian women (since I also speak Hungarian), and funny enough I've never come across a forced prostitute from Eastern Europe, in 4 years time. I don't know where Ilonka got this information from, but it's simply false information, since none of it is true. I also wonder from which country these 'free working' prostitutes are that Ilonka is talking about, since by far the largest part of prostitutes in the Red Light District are the Eastern European prostitutes for years already. 

After this article I decided to get into contact with Ilonka from foundation Geisha, to talk about the things that where in the article. So I decided to write her an e-mail, confronting her with the statements she made about contracts, working hours, etc. But also about her comments of 'free working prostitutes' and Eastern European prostitutes. I even offered her to send her a copy of the house rules and rental conditions of my office. All I got back from her was this e-mail:


Dear Felicia, 

I never said that the girls have to work both shifts a day. 

That is forbitten, so should not even be an option. 

Our foundation did research among the sekswerkers in 2012 and what i said during the interview is the outcome of this research. 

We still get complaints about this problem. 
I am very glad that for you things work out well, but this surely does not count for a lot of women. 
Our foundation complained about this problem and now some operators changed or are changing there rules and that's a good thing. 
If you want you can always sent me a copy of youre contract. 
If you have a empatic operator , who acts in the Right wat,we will make excuus en promoot that. 
I go for honesty en the truth. 
Thank you for reacting and i wish you a 
lot of succes in youre work. 

Kind regards

Ilonka Stakelborough
Directeur Stichting Geisha

Apparently Ilonka is still not correctly informed about the conditions and house rules of the offices, since she states now that working both shits a day is forbidden, which is not the case as I already explained here in the above section. Also she now claims that this was from a research from 2012, yet I worked also in 2012 and 2011 and the rules where pretty much the same as they are now. Plus I also wonder myself, why go to the media with a story of two years ago? Why didn't she go to the media in 2012 when she made the research?
But what bothered me above all, was the fact that she didn't answer any of the questions I asked her about the Eastern European prostitutes. She simply ignored them, as if they wheren't there.
So I decided to write her an e-mail back, which also included a copy of the house rules and rental conditions, but I never got a single answer back from that anymore.
What's strange is that Ilonka claims to fight for the position and the rights of prostitutes in Holland, yet she's completely misinformed, and all I've seen her doing was bringing out false information about our job and working conditions. And on top of that also stigmatize Eastern European prostitutes as apparently forced prostitutes. I expected these things from the government, or the Gemeente Amsterdam, but I never expected an organisation that works for prostitutes to give out false information and stigmatize our job and my country.

Dutch version
4 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent job of exposing hypocrisy and misinformation, along with the sickening untrustworthiness of the press and the toxic rhetoric and evil guile of members of the rescue industry. Somewhere in this blog I read that one problem is the fact that many women in the windows (because of the language barrier) don't know that there is a problem or the extent of it. I'd like to think that Felicia could find a way to break through this, even if it's only to produce A4 letters in Hungarian and Romanian (get a Bulgarian girlfriend to do a Bulgarian version) and pass it on like a human chain letter - and then keep them updated. Felicia has a network of contacts. Use it! Marcus


  2. Anonymous Says:

    This is very valuable information, especially for those of us outside the Netherlands, where it is difficult to get accurate facts on the situation in Amsterdam. We hear things about the decrease in windows, the closure of the tipplezone, clubs etc. but few details.

    Thanks for blogging!

    Swinav


  3. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Felicia,

    Just a few tips to improve your already fine English:
    -where/were: where is a place, were is the past plural tense of 'to be'
    -scarred/scared: scarred is to have scars on your body, scared is to be afraid
    -than/then: than when making a comparison (better than), then when pointing to a specific time (and then I went to...)

    Keep up the good work! (And tell Mark to keep up the good work as well.)

    a follower of the blog of Zondares


  4. Felicia Anna Says:

    @Anonymous May 1, 2014 at 10:56 AM
    Thanks for the tips. Still, not bad for someone who never had English in school I think.


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    Romanian prostitute working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam (De Wallen), speaking out for the truth behind prostitution. Blogging about prostitution, human trafficking, forced prostitution, politics and all the myths surrounding it. Member of PROUD, the Dutch union of sex workers.