The Dutch government plans to introduce a ‘hustler' ID card system in a bid to combat illegal prostitution and people trafficking. All of the country's 40,000 prostitutes would be obliged to register with the authorities and prospective clients would have to ask to see the prostitute’s card. A vote on the draft legislation is due in parliament soon.
Just this week police raided four illegal brothels in the eastern Dutch town of Almelo. At one they found a Brazilian prostitute who was a victim of people trafficking. A Venezuelan male prostitute at another of the brothels may also have been working against his will – the investigation continues. Prostitution may have been legalised in the Netherlands in 2000, but that hasn’t prised the business out of the clutches of pimps and criminals.
An ID system would help guarantee prostitutes weren’t being forced to work by people traffickers, is the government’s thinking. But the idea has met with fierce criticism from prostitutes and their clients.
As an alternative, the online prostitution forum hookers.nl (website in Dutch only) is offering to increase its cooperation with the police. Tens of thousands of clients discuss their experiences on the website and post reviews of the prostitutes they have visited. And some of the posts can be worrying, says Tom Kroon, the site’s moderator.
“Sometimes men write, ‘I came in and it looked dirty. And in fact she really didn’t want to do it. It makes you wonder if she was doing it entirely of her own free will.’ ”
Hookers.nl also urges its users to report suspicious circumstances to the police, for example via the website meldmisdaadanoniem.nl, where visitors can report crime anonymously. Mr Kroon says the police also monitor hookers.nl, and raid suspicious brothels or prostitutes based on information they find on the site.
Card can't rule out coercion
Mr Kroon is quick to defend the image of prostitution in the Netherlands. He says abuses are often exaggerated, and by no means all prostitutes are forced into the profession. And he says it’s wrong to think an ID card would improve matters. He knows a number or legal prostitutes who don’t want an ID card. They plan to work from home, he says, and simply tell their clients, "You know me, don’t you? So come round. But I don’t have a card."
“Then I’d be committing an offence if I went to someone who I know for sure was working of her own free will,” says Mr Kroon. “And then I could get a 7,000-euro fine, if it came to it. Yet there would be no problem as long as the person showed me an ID card, even it was obvious she was being forced. That’s very odd.”
Metje Blaak of the prostitutes’ organisation De Rode Draad (The Red Thread) is also against the ID card system. She worked for years as a prostitute herself. She says the system is an example of how the Dutch government sets out to curb prostitution but ends up stimulating it.
“Women who are forced into prostitution will all apply for a card. They’ll be forced to, otherwise they’d be illegal. And women who live and work in the Netherlands don’t want an ID card, because they think ‘then I’ll be on a database, how do I get off it? And if I stop will I be marked down as an ex-prostitute?’ Women just aren’t interested.”
Ms Blaak thinks it makes more sense to make better of use the information on hookers.nl. Prostitution is a shadowy world and the police are happy with any information they can get, she says. The Red Thread also regularly consults reviews on the site.
“We always look at hookers.nl too if we’ve got doubts about whether a place is sticking to the rules, or whether the women are working in good conditions. Clients on the site also swap information about women that sometimes isn’t pleasant. But you can ignore the things you think aren’t right.”
The only problem is that users could be put off the website if police use it too intensively, says Ms Blaak. After all, visiting prostitutes is still a taboo – even in the Netherlands.