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But while more windows might ease some of the pressures on prostitutes, they would do nothing to raise the price for sex. For that, there would have to be either fewer women working in prostitution or more labor organization. Some writers and activists have hyped the Red Thread, the Dutch sex workers� trade union, but the truth is that it never had the power to negotiate with brothel owners or set prices, and it went bankrupt in 2012 when the government funding that had sustained it dried up.
�Sex workers in the Netherlands don�t want to be united,� says Alexandra van Dijk, the Red Thread�s former director. Almost all of them are foreigners who simply want to be left alone, she adds, and can rarely be induced to come to meetings. �They don�t want to speak out with one voice, so [that] kind of union [is] not possible in the Netherlands.� Indeed, although Amsterdam has traditionally been a hub for sex-worker activism, there�s actually a stronger sex workers� organization in Sweden.
Meanwhile, even as things have gotten harder for sex workers who are in the industry voluntarily, there�s evidence that a significant number of women in the Netherlands have been forced into prostitution against their will, or forced to work in conditions not of their choosing. It�s very hard to say how many: �At the moment, there are no reliable figures available for the total number of prostitutes in the Netherlands,� according to a report by the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence Against Children. �Evidently, some prostitutes are exploited, but because of the hidden nature of both human trafficking and prostitution, it is difficult to say how large this proportion is.�
The minimum estimate, however, is in the hundreds. The National Threat Assessment on Organized Crime estimated that 20,000 people worked in prostitution in 2012, the vast majority of them women, with at least 800 trafficking victims. The real number is likely higher, the assessment warns, though how much so is hard to say given the victims� hesitancy to talk to the police.
As Felicia Anna�s case shows, defining �trafficking� can be politically fraught; there is a gray area between absolute exploitation and total free agency. �Most cases of trafficking are not the media-popular story of somebody being forcibly taken out of their home and forcibly chained to a bed,� says the Red Umbrella Fund�s van der Linde. �In my experience, most cases of trafficking are about women who were actually already working as a sex worker but decided to work somewhere else as a sex worker, and came into a situation where they faced some form of exploitation.�
However they ended up in the country, some women working as prostitutes in the Netherlands are being coerced. Majoor is no abolitionist, but her off-the-cuff estimate is even larger than that of the National Threat Assessment. �I think between 5 and 10 percent of sex workers are actually trafficked,� she says�which, given 20,000 prostitutes in the Netherlands, would mean somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people.
Academic evidence suggests that trafficking is exacerbated by legalization. A 2012 article by the scholars Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher and Eric Neumayer, published in the journal World Development , concluded that �countries with legalized prostitution have a statistically significantly larger reported incidence of human trafficking inflows. This holds true regardless of the model we use to estimate the equations and the variables we control for in the analysis.�
This can seem counterintuitive�shouldn�t legalization reduce the role of force in the industry, since it allows more women to enter sex work legally? The explanation, according to Cho, Dreher and Neumayer, is that while more women enter prostitution voluntarily in a legal market, the increase in the number of clients is even greater. Demand outstrips supply.
Sweden, it seems, has figured out how to curb that demand. In 1999, it undertook what was then a radical experiment: banning the buying but not the selling of sex. The Sex Purchase Act was premised on the idea, common to a certain strain of radical feminism, that prostitution is fundamentally inimical to gender equality. �The legislative proposal stated that it is shameful and unacceptable that, in a gender-equal society, men should obtain casual sexual relations with women in return for payment,� stated a government review of the law in 2010. The penalties range from fines to six months� imprisonment, though to date no violator has been locked up.
Studies suggest that the percentage of men buying sex has declined, from 13.6 percent in a 1996 survey to 8 percent in 2008. No one knows precisely how the law has affected the number of prostitutes in Sweden, in part because its passage coincided with the coming of the Internet, which changed the way the market works. Street prostitution is clearly way down. The Swedish Ministry of Justice estimates that it�s been halved since 1999, and walking around Malmskillinsgatan�a raised street in the center of Stockholm that�s as close to a red-light district as the city has�that seems like an understatement. At 10:30 on a recent Wednesday night, it was largely dead. There was a lone Thai massage parlor, but it had closed at 8:00. A storefront that looked like it was once a porn shop�a sign touted books, magazines and �video-show��was shuttered.
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