Opinion: Window-prostitution

POSTED: 11/20/13 6:24 PM

Prostitution is not that much of a hot item anymore in St. Maarten since the humiliating departure of Justice Minister Roland Duncan. But the industry is still there and it seems to be well-protected. We may think differently about prostitution, but we should never close our eyes for reality. That happens here – not a single parliamentarian or member of the government had an opinion when the close ties Duncan maintained with the sector when he was still in office – but it also happens in tolerant Holland, where window-prostitution still is an accepted phenomenon.

Political scientist Hala Naoum Néhmé, movie director Eddy Terstall and Christian Union Parliamentarian Gert-Jan Segers tackled the issue in an op-ed in the Volkskrant where they argue that window-prostitution “is not a symbol of broadmindedness, but the humiliation of women.”

Window-prostitution – “a public women-market” – has been considered for too long as the crown jewel of Dutch broadmindedness, the authors say, adding that this is due to a tragic misunderstanding. Window-prostitution – made famous in the Wallen-district in Amsterdam – is still a tourist attraction. But it is time to see this industry for what it really is. It certainly is not innocent folklore and not at all a billboard of a libertine world view.

The only difference with prostitution in St. Maarten is that everything on the island takes place in shady clubs where the working girls are not visible from the street.

In the Wallen-district there is an alley with small rooms that has the all-revealing nickname “the meat carrousel.” The authors point out that there are two categories of foreigners that could help them to look with different eyes at window-prostitution. The first group comes to Amsterdam to do what is prohibited at home. The women behind the windows have to endure their stares and their remarks and after payment they have to endure even more. The second group are the foreigners who ask themselves after a walk through the district how the Dutch are able to parade often vulnerable foreign women like meat in a butchery.

It is a good question and both groups show what this meat carrousel is: a humiliation of women. The Netherlands had ratified the United Nations Women’s treaty, like St. Maarten has signed a protocol with other countries in the kingdom to get tough on human trafficking.

The Netherlands is in the front row to call Islamic countries on the way they treat their women. But the country remains silent about what happens in its own backyard.

Néhmé, Terstall and Segers note that the UN-treaty obliges member states to ban everything that could feed the thought that one gender is inferior to the other gender, adding that window-prostitution has little to do with equality.

The treaty also establishes that women are in control of their own body. It obliges member states to do everything possible to combat all forms of trade in women and the exploitation of the prostitution of women.

In the real world, most prostitutes have a pimp that pockets all the profits and forces them to generate a high turnover.

Research shows that at least half of all the prostitutes are involuntarily behind a window. Amsterdam’s Mayor Van der Laan recently expressed his concern about “hundreds of rapes” that take place every day in prostitution in Amsterdam alone. That raw reality makes clear that window-prostitution and the UN-Treaty do not see eye to eye. The authors argue – and rightly so – that the rights of the women in this industry ought to prevail over the pleasure of whore-hopper and the business model of the pimp.

The authors note that it is “probably’ not possible to ban prostitution completely. (We’d say: forget probably). And it is true that there will always be some women who have reasons to make money with sex, and there will always be men ready to pay for the service.

Accepting prostitution as a reality, the authors conclude, does not mean that window-prostitution is a necessary evil. They point to Rotterdam where window-prostitution is prohibited. Exhibiting women this way is not fate, but a free choice of policy makers.

That free choice is also up to policy makers in St. Maarten. We may not have window-prostitution, but we have plenty of worrisome and degrading situations in our local brothels. Our politicians turn a blind eye to this situation – most likely because they assume that most of the girls that work in our whorehouses are foreigners – and they don’t vote.

Our government missed an opportunity to draw a line in the sand when it ignored a request from the prosecutor’s office to close down the Border Bar brothel in Oyster pond, after its owners were sentenced for human trafficking, exploitation and robbing prostitutes of their freedom. Instead, the Ministry of Economic Affairs allowed the business to put another name on its permit and on its registration at the Chamber of Commerce. That gives our decision makers the formal argument that they are unable to close down the place because the “owner” has not been sentenced for anything.

At least this situation shows loud and clear what prostitutes in distress should expect from our government. Absolutely nothing.

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