My study tour location was Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where we jam-packed 5 days with activities that helped us meet our goal of learning about the Dutch way of regulating prostitution, the work that different organizations are doing to combat human trafficking, and Dutch culture and history.
Amsterdam is a beautiful and fun city with a lot of things that are unique to it!
What is at the heart of many things that are “uniquely Amsterdam” is the famous attitude of “Dutch Tolerance”, which is the laissez-faire approach to drugs, sexuality, and prostitution that the government has.
You’ll see people smoking joints like they’re cigarettes in coffee shops. It’s not rare to see a couple getting far more intimate than we’re used to seeing in a public park.
Around the city, there are stands and statues dedicated solely to LGBTQI awareness and acceptance (The Netherlands was the first country in the world to allow same-sex marriage!).
And, most importantly for my class’ purpose, it’s perfectly legal to buy and sell sex, so long as the prostitute is a consenting adult with a European Union work permit, a license, and no pimp, and the client is at least 16 years old. Even as someone who is completely for the legalization of prostitution, it was strangely poignant to see women/she-males of all ages, sizes, and nationalities dancing in windows in the Red Light District, working to attract clients.
Sex work has a tendency of bringing some trouble with it, no matter where in the world you are or whether or not it is legal. Some women chose to work in prostitution and love it, but they feel extremely looked down upon and stigmatized, labeled as victims of society’s gender inequalities. Some women work in prostitution involuntarily: trafficking of human beings is a massive problem, even/especially (depending on what side of the legalization debate you’re on) in countries where prostitution is regulated and decriminalized. There is a crucial difference between voluntary and involuntary sex workers, but it’s difficult to say who a trafficked person is just by looking with the naked eye. The YouTube clip below portrays this haunting reality.
In order to learn how the Dutch are combating human trafficking, we visited 4 organizations that work with trafficked persons and prostitutes: La Strada International, the Prostitution Information Center in the Red Light District, Not For Sale, and CoMensha. Here, we learned about each organization’s unique goals, methods, and legislation ideas. These are some amazing people that work to empower and protect people. For example, part of the way that Not for Sale works is by teaching survivors of human trafficking a marketable skill at the same time that they’re helping them get out of the industry. This (delicious!) cup of soup was made by trafficked women.
When we weren’t learning how to combat human trafficking and not stigmatize voluntary sex workers, we were exploring Dutch culture and history by foot, bike, and boat, as well as in the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. What an exciting week! I’m completely worn out, but so glad to have had such an opportunity to spend time with my professor, her colleague, Michelle Mildwater (who’s *kind of* a huge deal in the field of working with trafficked persons), and my classmates, having good times and eating good food.
Until next time, Amsterdam!