Working together to empower sex workers
Sex workers are entrepreneurs. They exercise a legal profession, pay taxes and are registered with the Chamber of Commerce. Yet, sex workers in the Netherlands are not treated the same as other entrepreneurs. And that leads to exclusion. THUAS, together with sex workers and other stakeholders, wants to change this with the project ‘Inclusive collaboration in the city’. They jointly kicked off this four-year project with a meeting that was brimming with ideas.
There was no shortage of ideas on how we can do better. And the desire to work together to make a positive impact on the lives of sex workers was heard loud and clear. Attendees, which included sex workers, the state secretary of Justice and Security, policy staff of the VNG and municipalities, welfare organisations, students, lecturers, researchers, professors, programme manager and the chair of the THUAS Executive Board, all agreed. It’s time for a change.
The position of sex workers in the year 2023 is downright poor. For example, sex workers cannot open a business bank account or obtain a mortgage like other entrepreneurs. Even renting business premises proves difficult. Banks suspect money laundering, landlords worry about nuisance and fear being seen as sex operators. In addition, the industry suffers from the negative image of violence, exploitation and crime. Add to this the social image of the profession and you can imagine that the exclusion of sex workers is the rule rather than the exception.
Collaboration – co-creation – is the key word in the search for solutions to improve the employment and social position of sex workers. Collaboration plays a central role in the project's approach. State Secretary Eric van der Burg: “We must continue to work together to improve the position of sex workers and fight exclusion and stigma. This project can make an incredible contribution to that.”
A round of brainstorming already yielded a nice first step to start elaborating the project. A short internship or job shadowing opportunity to give politicians and officials a better understanding of the real-life problems sex workers face. Or establishing a union for sex workers, following the example set by New Zealand. Or how about a study programme to become a sex worker?
Social Work lecturers Jan-Martijn Knip and Justine le Clercq coordinate the project. “We advocate for the position of sex workers throughout the Netherlands,” Justine underlined. As an example, she mentions the question of a sex worker in Leeuwarden. “This entrepreneur was recently granted a licence for 46 windows. “How on earth am I going to set up a safe business, without criminals and pimps?” she asked. We are helping her. For example, by liaising with parties such as the municipality and police.”
For inspiration, Mischa Tydeman, action researcher, talked about the photo exhibition Reimagining Sex Work which she created with photographers, researchers and sex workers. “In the media we often see the same kind of stereotypical pictures used over and over again in articles about sex work. For example, an image of a scantily clad sad-looking woman. This stereotyping adds to the stigma and seriously harms sex workers.” Interviews with journalists revealed that they only have a limited number of photos in their image bank. “We have changed that by capturing diverse and honest images of sex workers.” The photos have now been included in the image bank of various media outlets.
However, sex workers are not the only group at risk of exclusion. Refugees, homeless people, travellers, migrant workers and people from the LGBTQ+ community are also unable to fully participate in society. “If we see clear a improvement in the position of sex workers during this project, we will extend it to other target groups as well,” Justine informed.
Do you see opportunities to improve the position of sex workers? Share your idea and participate in this project! This can be done in many ways.
- Do you have an idea for a project? Let us know. You can submit a project individually or on behalf of an organisation.
- Do you have knowledge and experience that can contribute to a better position for sex workers? Join the expert group.
- Would you like to contribute to one or more projects? Then sign up for a work group (in a personal capacity or on behalf of an organisation).
- Do you like to think about the feasibility of ideas or solutions? Sign up for the sounding board group to give feedback on ideas.
- Want to keep up to date with news about this project? Sign up for the newsletter.
- Do you want to participate as an organisation for the duration of the project? We are happy to talk to you and explore collaboration opportunities.
For more information and registration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com.
The project ‘Inclusive collaboration in the city’ is part of the Workshop Social Domain The Hague and Leiden. Besides lecturers and students from the Social Work degree programme at THUAS, the Expertise Centre for Sex Work and Human Trafficking (SHOP), the municipality of The Hague and the VNG are also actively involved in the project. Jan-Martijn Knip and Justine le Clercq are in charge of the project's day-to-day management. They also count on the assistance of Social Work students in the project.
Want to know more?
- Want to know more about the background of the project and the role of the Workshop Social Domain The Hague and Leiden? Read the Startdocument Inclusief samenwerken in de stad (pdf) (Dutch only).
- Curious about the photo exhibition? Although no longer available at THUAS, the exhibition will be on display again soon (April 2023) in the publicly accessible space of the Ministry of Justice and Security in The Hague.