Holland Proposes Law Criminalising Clients

European Regional Correspondent

A majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) in Holland are supporting plans to make it an offence to pay for sex if sex workers are known or suspected to be victims of human trafficking. Sex work itself is legal in Holland.

Under the proposed law, clients will face prosecution if they could be shown to have had a ‘serious suspicion’ that the sex worker was working under duress. Similar laws are in place in countries such as Sweden, Finland and parts of the United Kingdom.

In Finland, where a similar law was introduced in 2015, it has made it harder to investigate trafficking.

Jaana Kauppinen, who runs the sex worker-led organisation Pro-Tukipiste, says the new law is a failure.

”When the attempt to buy sex is a punishable offence, the client has broken the law even if he turns and walks out the door and would have wanted to inform the police. The buyer no longer has the chance to look out for signs of human trafficking in those initial stages,” she says.

Detective chief sergeant Kenneth Eriksson, who has worked with sex workers for almost twenty years, says that prosecuting someone who gives police information about a human trafficker is nonsensical.

“Of course there is always the risk that a client is scared of being prosecuted. Some people could, from now on, keep quiet, although we do have clients calling us sometimes and passing on information, even now.”

“If a client sees a sex worker is in some way being controlled and informs police, I would go so far as to say, at least with the situation in the capital, that that client should not be prosecuted. He has brought the problem to the authorities’ attention,” Eriksson says.

According to Yvette Luhrs from PROUD, interviewed by NSWP’s Regional Correspondent in Europe, this new law will lead clients to fear reporting if they suspect exploitation. “There is still a chance that the second chamber will refuse the proposed law. We have done a lot of lobbying against this law, we spoke with the authors of the law. We met with other MPs and explained to them why they should be against this law. We had a lot of interviews with media. We made a lot of noise!”

Despite sex work being legal in Holland, there are many obstacles to enter the market.

“Migrant sex workers are the big issue. It is prohibited to help migrant sex workers enter the Dutch sex work market. If you do, you are trafficker. No legal institution is allowed to give advice on how to register and work. Even PROUD is not allowed to help. You have to find your way yourself. So migrant sex workers are facing these additional obstacles. As there is no legal way to enter the Dutch market, there is organised trafficking into the country to facilitate their entry into sex work,” adds Yvette.

“At PROUD we believe that if the government would make it easier for European sex workers to enter the Dutch sex industry safely and well informed by information services like PROUD, sex workers would be at less risk of exploitation”

“We are also concerned that the laws criminalising clients are the first step to the harmful Swedish model.”