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Sex work in the Netherlands

First preview of our online exhibition:

At the beginning of the Value Creators semester the team was trying to first get to know each other, before exchanging expectations and ideas on the journey ahead. What was it that we wanted to achieve personally as well as professionally? What are our strengths and weaknesses? And how could we make this semester an overall success?

Soon after having settled on a challenge, we started to dive into the topic by asking ourselves varies thought-provoking questions, starting with: why is the sex work industry in the Netherlands such a wicked issue? We started our exploration phase by seeking for answers through desk research, yet soon switched to gaining first-hand knowledge by interviewing social workers and organisations that are active in the field. However, getting in contact with people that are, or were active in the industry turned out to be more difficult than expected. To talk to people directly, and see the problem with our own eyes, we therefore decided to visit the Red-Light District. That is also where we met Frits Rouvoet, CEO of Bright Fame, an organisation that tries to help women to get out of sex work. Over the course of time, he turned into one of our most important network partners, sharing with us incredible stories and art pieces, made by women that successfully stepped out of the industry.

The wickedness detected is the grey area and common discomfort that surrounds the topic. Sex work in the Netherlands is legalised which makes it easier to monitor but, at the same time, violates human rights on a daily basis. Violence, discrimination, blackmailing, and verbal abuses are concrete examples.

Through interviews and open conversations, we learnt that the health and wellbeing of women active in districts are worryingly low. The societal stigma against sex workers is here one of the central reasons. Afraid of being judged and excluded, the image and reputation of their job has a great impact on their level of self-worth and respect. Ashamed, they don’t dare to share, let alone talk, about this part of their lives, which quickly results in isolation and mental knock-on effects.

With the gathering of this knowledge, we decided that it is about high time to shed light on the sex work industry, showing what is really going on behind closed curtains. We thought of doing this by sharing personal stories of (ex) sex workers and got in contact with a safe house close to Zwolle. By going there, we established a trustful connection that allowed us to listen and get to know the different perspectives and stories of brave women.

Through our visit we also found the powerful leverage point in the stigma around sex work within society. Thus, the goal of our final value product is to change the negative view society has on sex workers. Our online exhibition therefore intends to provide disclosure and transparency, encouraging the visitors to look past the label “sex worker” and see the real person behind it. This will hopefully lead to less isolation of sex workers and makes it easier for (ex) sex workers to participate in society. At the same time, we want to highlight that sex work is not a normal job, but an alarmingly high rate of violence and exploitation involved.

Looking back, our leaning journey was not as straight-forward as one might think but entailed many re-directions and changes. By interviewing stakeholders throughout all four phases of the semester, we continuously received new input, feedback, and advice. With challenges to our creativity and many lessons learnt, we certainly gained valuable new experiences as future change agents.

Now, some more details on our value product or living online exhibition. In cooperation with at least four stakeholders, the art pieces will be presented and renewed beyond the semester timeframe. By creating an open online space, new stories and experiences will be displayed among people within and outside the industry. Deeply touched by the stories that were shared with us, we now hope that through the exhibition feelings and emotions are given room for expression, speaking to the minds and hearts of the public.

Thank you for reading and caring!

Ana Garcia Alvarez

Mirthe de Jong

Channah Dijk

Daan Bakker

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