A probe into the Leeuwarden Red Light District uncovered troubling conditions for sex workers including prostitutes sleeping in shared rooms above brothels and working without condoms for very low wages, possibly involuntarily.
According to an article published Wednesday by Nieuwsuur, some prostitutes work in Leeuwarden because the Friesland capital city is known for lenient regulations. Since the Netherlands lifted its brothel ban in 2000, individual municipalities determine their own sex worker policies which results in significant differences between what is permissible for prostitutes.
Nieuwsuur reports that since Groningen introduced strict regulations in June 2016, many sex workers in the North migrated to Friesland. An anonymous sex worker says to Nieuwsuur, “Leeuwarden is known for no checks. A lot of women don’t pay taxes here. Several girls work below the price and without a condom, out of sheer desperation to be able to pay for the room rent.”
Another prostitute explains, “I work in Leeuwarden because you don’t need any papers here, seven days a week. Usually I work here for two months and then I go back to my own country for a while. My husband thinks I work in a hotel.”
The report classifies Leeuwarden sex workers as “mostly foreign women who work as self-employed workers,” who do not register with their municipality or comply with the mandatory registration process for self-employed workers in the Netherlands.
Nieuwsuur interviewed Danny Sesseler – one of four permit holders who can legally rent rooms to prostitutes in Leeuwarden – who confirms to the news source that for prostitutes, “it is not customary in Leeuwarden to have a Chamber of Commerce registration or registration with the municipality.”
One consequence of undocumented sex workers is that they often work for low wages – even offering sex for as low as €20. According to Nieuwsuur, Sesseler also rents out a ‘love doll’ for €65 per half hour.
One measure toward the welfare of sex workers in Leeuwarden is a ban on employees sleeping in the rooms where they work. Instead, Nieuwsuur reports many prostitutes sleep in rooms above the brothels which they also rent from the brothel operators. Carlijn Niesink – a witness from the group ChristenUnie which supports the abolition of sex work – tells the news source that some of the small rooms contain as many as five sex workers sharing a single room for which they each pay up to €10 a night.
Ineke van Buren of the Salvation Army says the lack of regulations in Leeuwarden “creates a risk of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.” Sesseler confirms to Nieuwsuur that he can’t always tell when a sex worker is working voluntarily, saying, “I always try to check for that, but it is very difficult to clearly see whether a lady is under pressure or not.”
Nieuwsuur reports that in response to their findings, the Leeuwarden Mayor Sybrand Buma promises to “adjust the prostitution policy of the municipality.” The mayor says he wants to “raise more barriers to human trafficking by checking as a municipality for registrations at the Chamber of Commerce and the municipal basic administration.”