Opinion: Slavery continues

POSTED: 01/4/13 1:22 PM

Renate van der Zee published a column in the Dutch daily Trouw about a subject that is close to our heart. The subject is ignored and even ridiculed by politicians and decision makers in St. Maarten: the exploitation of women in the prostitution business. The main reason why our politicians do not give a hoot about what happens in our local brothels is that the girls that work there are foreigners. They don’t count. We challenge them to step forward and say that this is an incorrect assessment of their attitude and to declare that these girls and women do count. But in that case they will have to come up with an action plan to improve the condition under which these girls are forced to live and work. We’d love to be proven wrong here, but we are pretty sure that no male politicians will step up to the plate.

Anyway, Renate van der Zee, writer of Bitter Adventure (Bitter Avontuur) about exploitation in the Netherlands, made an attempt to get the discussion going by asking this question: Why do we find that men must be able to buy sex?

They say that slavery has disappeared from the European civilization, Van der Zee notes in her column, adding immediately: that is not true. It still exists, but now it only weights down on women and it is called prostitution. Victor Hugo wrote those lines in 1862 and it is still actual. We’d like to add: not only in Europe, but also in the Caribbean in general and in St. Maarten in particular.

Last month there was a prostitution-conference in the European parliament. Participants spoke a very clear language on that occasion: prostitution is a form of violence. It is a violation of the human dignity. It is an obstacle to equality between men and women, between rich and poor between the majority and minorities.

Van der Zee refers to the figures that surfaced during this conference. 60 Percent of women in prostitution have symptoms that meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. 90 Percent wants to get out of the profession, but feels unable to do so. More than 60 percent reports having been raped.

The conference was not exactly a tea party. There were 200 organizations from almost thirty countries who signed a declaration that pushed for a new prostitution policy. The results in the battle against the trade in people are near non-existent.

The declaration was not signed by Dutch organizations. That is typical, Van der Zee notes: the Netherlands is a favorite destination for the new slave traders, especially since the government abolished the ban on brothels and legalized prostitution. The world of prostitution is a hotbed (no pun intended) of tough criminality. But in the Netherlands people like to consider prostitute as a profession like any other. Because it is patronizing to have concerns about what these women encounter in their work.

The percentage of women who are forced into prostitution in the Netherlands is estimated at between 50 and 90 percent. We figure that St. Maarten is quite capable of outdoing the Netherlands in this respect. The women who are voluntarily in prostitution often found that they were forced to make this choice due to circumstances like debts or poverty. In this respect, the women who work in our local brothels score probably an easy one hundred percent.

Between 80 and 95 percent of prostitutes in the Netherlands has been the victim of violence like rape, incest, or other forms of sexual abuse before they ended up in the oldest profession in the world.



Somehow, Van der Zee wrote, the Netherlands fails or does not want to see things this way. “We have a film maker like Frans Bromet who spent three episodes (of all stations for the Christian NCRV) to show that everything is okay at de Wallen (Amsterdam’s red light district – ed.). He portrays window-operators (people who rent out space in the red light district) as exquisite entrepreneurs – while it is known that they facilitate forced prostitution.

We have a TV-presenter like Matthijs van Nieuwkerk who reacts concerned when Lodewijk Asscher says that he wants to combat crime on de Wallen. “I hope Amsterdam is not going to go silly? Prostitutes are a part of the city, are they not?”

We have a philosopher like Ger Groot who, not hampered by any factual knowledge, accuses those who want to tackle the world of prostitution of a misplaced sense of decency. Yes, this is indeed about decency, Van der Zee fumes, but not in the way Groot means it.

It is time that we start asking ourselves the question in the Netherlands why we find it so important that men must be able to buy sex that we are willing to sacrifice so many, often very young women for that purpose, the author concludes.

And indeed, we could ask that question here in St. Maarten as well. Not that we expect an answer from anyone in a position to actually do something. With a Justice Minister who is involved in a company that runs the Seaman’s Club brothel in Sucker Garden – a fact that has not given a single politician reason to raise a finger and question the situation – there is indeed little perspective that our society will ever arrive at the conclusion that modern day slavery is probably worse than the slavery of the past that former Minister Rhoda Arrindell has turned into her pet project.

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