Profiting from victims of trafficking: Free A Girl
About a year ago organisation Free A Girl, in collaboration with organisation Loesje, hung posters on some prostitution windows in Amsterdam's Red Light District. The posters that were hung on the windows were prostitutes in Amsterdam are working, had texts like 'Red Light District: Does the tour also bring us past the pimp?', 'Prostitute - whoever got that as a result from a career test', 'Was that a wink or a cry for help' and 'The Red Light District - not everything you see in the window is for sale'.
In an article in the newspaper Metro, director of Free A Girl Evelien Hölksen, explained the reason for hanging posters on the windows of prostitutes in Amsterdam (read here).

Free A Girl, an organisation founded by Roelof van Laar and Evelien Hölksen claims to be 'rescuing' children from forced prostitution in mainly countries like India, Nepal, Thailand and other third world countries. What an organisation that focuses on children has to do with Amsterdam's Red Light District is beyond me. There are no children working behind the windows in Amsterdam's Red Light District, and I personally know the women on who's windows these posters were hung, since I worked on that very same spot for years before I moved to a new place.

The women working behind these windows are in the age range between 24 and 31 years old, not exactly 'children' anymore, nor to be qualified as 'young girls' anymore, which is the target group of Free A Girl. These women are adults, and above all have all chosen to do this work voluntarily! The women in question are all Romanian and Bulgarian women, some of whom are good friends of mine with who I regularly drink a coffee, some aren't really my friends, but nonetheless I think isn't fair that Free A Girl feels it's necessary to harass these women with a poster that would suggest they are being forced.

Free A Girl themselves claim that "60 to 70 percent of the women aren't behind the window by their own choice". Beyond the fact that this is complete bullshit, they're not even basing themselves on any actual research. There is no research about Amsterdam's Red Light District or prostitution in The Netherlands in general, that comes up with any of these mentioned numbers. Which is funny, because there are other researches out there, that would support their claim that many of us would be forced. So why they use completely made up numbers, while there are perfectly usable statistics out there that could support their claims (however false these statistics may be), is completely beyond me.
At least if you're lying about something, make sure you base it on something, and not just wave with completely made up statistics!

Also the claim that many people wouldn't know that 'there's 'so much wrong with prostitution in The Netherlands' as a reason to raise awareness to this, is complete bullshit.
Truth is that most people in Holland think most of the prostitutes are forced, so what exactly do you need to make them aware of? They already think that most prostitutes are forced. So what exactly is this campaign telling them that they aren't aware of yet?
The claim that many people think because it's legal that nothing bad is happening here, is complete bullshit. Ask any regular person about prostitution in Holland, and ask him or her how many prostitutes they think are being forced. I can tell you already that most of them will say, that more than half of us are forced. This is a direct result of the marketing campaign these kind of organisations have been running. And this is exactly the stigma we are trying to fight.

It's an old trick the rescue industry has been playing since day one. Always claim that a lot of people don't know it, it's very bad, and that there's so few people talking about it, just to make it look like people are ignoring the facts or are unaware of it. Yet, strangely enough when you type in prostitution on Google, most of what you'll get are stories and made up facts about forced prostitution and human trafficking.
In fact, you'll almost find no positive stories out there, which is strange, since a large majority of the prostitutes have a positive story about prostitution. So then how come we only hear the negative sides about prostitution, while that's the smallest group of prostitutes?
The answer is of course very simple. Positive news is no news, while bad news is always good for a story in the media. Nobody wants to hear what's going good, or that the problem really isn't as big as they say it is. What people are interested to hear is bad news, sensation.

And this is exactly what Free A Girl does. Free A Girl is an organisation which tries to profit from the hype around human trafficking. Using sad stories of real victims, all of which come from third world countries, to raise money to profit from it. From their annual funding income of 1,37 million euro's, only 46% get used to 'rescue' children from forced prostitution, as a client on hookers.nl was able to discover here. Most of the money the organisation receives however, ends up in the pockets of the organisation themselves, which had only 3 employees in 2012, of which two were directors, Roelof van Laar and Evelien Hölksen. The other employee is an unknown administrative worker.
Roelof van Laar resigned some time ago from Free A Girl to become parliament member for the PVDA (how surprising), but back in 2012 he did receive a salary of € 69.280 for his 28-hour part-time job (that's € 98.971,43 on a full time job!) for example. That's a salary close to the prime-minister's salary!
These people are making a lot of money over the backs of victims of trafficking, giving people that donate the idea they're doing something good, while in reality just making the people behind this organisation rich. In my opinion this is almost just as bad as human trafficking itself, profiting over the backs of real victims. Disgusting!

Apparently Free A Girl got scared after this was uncovered on hookers.nl, and apparently decided to cover up their year report and how much money was spend on things for the next year, as the website of Utrecht Krijgt Spijt uncovered. The website Utrecht Krijgt Spijt, which was started due to the closing of Utrecht's Red Light District area the Zandpad, was able to uncover the fact that more money was raised then the year before (from 1,37 million to 1,52 million), while on the other hand less money was being spend on the actual funding on fighting human trafficking (from € 723.627 to € 702.990). Many things are however unmentioned in their year report, which are in violation of the ANBI demands, the Dutch government it's own regulations for NGO's.

But more important, is the fact that Free A Girl isn't really 'freeing girls'. They have no contact with women in Amsterdam's Red Light District, and all their statements are based purely on their own assumptions and ideas about prostitution in Amsterdam. They often claim that 'a lot of minors are working in prostitution in Holland', while even research funded by the Dutch government themselves concludes (source here page 86) that "there seems to be hardly any prostitution by minors in the licensed sector and there are no indications of a great presence of minors within the non-licensed sector either."
And it's also questionable that they're 'saving girls from prostitution', as Marijke Vonk recently uncovered a while ago in her article here. She describes how prostitutes are often 'rescued' and then locked away in government buildings. Forced to be in a shelter, these women aren't allowed to leave, yet again and again they try to escape and return to their old workplaces. More interestingly is also the fact that often the 'girls' that are rescued, aren't minors, but are often adult women.

The sad thing however, is the fact that many Dutch celebrities are unaware of this. They have no idea that Free A Girl is supporting organisations that simply abduct adult women and imprison them in shelters from which they try to escape to go back to work. They have no idea that there are no minors in Amsterdam's Red Light District, as opposed to how Free A Girl claims, and that the amount of minors working in prostitution in Holland is practically non-existing. They have no idea that most of the money they donate to this organisation isn't getting used to 'save girls', but gets mostly used to raise more money with, to get a big fat paycheck.
Free A Girl doesn't free girls, they abduct prostitutes from their workplace to lock them up in shelters against their will. They don't rescue women from Amsterdam's Red Light District, as they're never here, unless when they want to promote their own propaganda. They use made up facts to lie to people, in order to gain more donations from people, and they've gained the trust of Dutch celebrities in order for you to donate to them.

Dutch celebrities such as Froukje de Both, Arjan Erkel, Glennis Grace, Vivian Reijs, Wesley Sneijder, Yolanthe Sneijder Cabau, John Ewbank, Jim Bakkum and Bettina Holwerda-Bakkum are being deceived. It was Froukje de Both that hung a poster on my old workplace, ignorant about the fact that the women working there are far from 'being forced' or 'children'. Froukje, you're not helping us, in fact, you're supporting an organisation that increases the stigma against sex workers as 'victims', while most of us aren't victims, and there are virtually no minors working in Holland in the prostitution industry. Wake up, and realize that you're being used as marketing material, not against forced prostitution of children (something which I think everyone agrees on that is barbaric), but a crusade against prostitution.
So please, don't donate anymore money to this organisation of lies. This organisation is against prostitution itself, and uses human trafficking as an excuse for it's crusade. They use your money to make the lives of sex workers more difficult, are definitely not helping us, and we're definitely not supporting them!

If you wish to support an organisation against human trafficking, then support La Strada International. These people do a good job, and are fighting the real human trafficking problem, rather then fighting prostitution itself. Go to their website here, and take a look at how real human trafficking works, and get informed about it correctly. And go here to make a donation to them.
I'm not against fighting human trafficking, forced prostitution or minors in prostitution, not at all! But what I hate, are organisations using false claims to get you to donate money, with which they make our lives more difficult in stead of better. Stop Free A Girl with their crusade against prostitution, and support real organisations with real interests in fighting human trafficking.

Dutch version
6 Responses
  1. Bongo Says:

    Thank you Anna for the thorough post link to the La Strada international organisation. The comparison is stark.


  2. Anonymous Says:

    La strada netherlands = comensha


  3. Felicia Anna Says:

    @Anonymous
    No, LaStrada is not CoMenSha itself, although they do support each other. However, CoMenSha itself is not an evil organisation itself, they simply register possible victims of human trafficking to the National Rapporteur. It is however the National Rapporteur that often draws the wrong conclusions.

    You can read on Marijke Vonk how Comensha works: http://marijkevonk.com/the-weekly-personal-5/

    Beyond that I have contact with the people that work at LaStrada. They've also told me they try to stay neutral in this debate, and therefor will not make any statements on the subject, but I do know how the people that work at LaStrada think about this matter personally, who completely agree with me.


  4. Bobby Says:

    Thanks, Ana, for supporting La Strada International. A couple of clarifications, if you or your readers are interested.
    CoMensha is an independent organisation but also a member of La Strada International, which is a network of NGOs in eight European countries.
    As an anti-trafficking organisation we prefer to keep the focus of our work on trafficking (for all sorts of exploitation) and not so much on sex work, that's why we partially stay out of the debate. However, we are very open and voiced in our respect for the rights of (migrant) sex workers. We acknowledge that there is violence and abuse in sex work, just as in other areas of insufficiently protected labour, such as construction, agriculture, domestic work, etc. Since trafficking occurs in countries where prostitution is legalised and regulated, as well as in countries where it is prohibited, we do not advocate for a specific approach to prostitution, but we do oppose the "Swedish model", see for example our opinion http://lastradainternational.org/about-lsi/lsi-opinion/criminalising-the-clients-of-sex-workers and our statement against the Honeyball report http://lastradainternational.org/lsidocs/STATEMENT%20-%20FEMM%20report.pdf and our statement on International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers http://lastradainternational.org/lsidocs/LSI%20statement%2017%20December%20-%20end%20violence%20against%20sex%20workers%20day%20def.pdf.

    As for the campaign of Free a Girl, we cannot give an opinion on other organisations' principles, views or campaigns, but in our campaigns we try not to stigmatise people (such as sex workers or their clients) and not to tell them not to migrate or not to undertake sex work, but simply to be sure to double check everything before they travel abroad and where to call for help, if they find themselves abused by traffickers.


  5. Cliente X Says:

    I've already told u all that, If u want to fight the mafia, u need to begin to not pay taxes.


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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.