09 June 2012

Forced Prostitution, Credibility, and the Maria Mosterd Scandal

A variation of the following blog entry has also been published on my "Recent Reading" blog where I infrequently write about books that I have read.

In her book Echte mannen eten geen kaas (2008), Maria Mosterd tells her story of being involved in prostitution via a relationship with a loverboy. As I've once again been reading books about prostitution and trafficking, it seemed only appropriate to read one of the most famous ones. The edition I had from 2009 was the twenty-second printing of the book (on top of this, sequels were written, numerous interviews were made, and film rights had been sold) - and then came the scandal. Maria's supposedly true story was filled with lies (see the dutch article on wikipedia). Most notably, the lawsuit against the school for neglect was dismissed - in the book, Maria claims to have attended class only on days when there were tests, which should have raised questions. Yet, according to the school, Maria did not skip class at any level of significance (and significant contact was attempted with her mother - about her lack of motivation and frequently arriving late). Classmates/friends of Maria testified in public to her being present at school - and that she had a good imagination. There is little doubt any more that significant parts of the book are fictional.

Before reading the book, I knew about the scandal - and I'm sure that influenced my reading. I found the book itself hard to believe; yet, at the same time, in the midst of this rather nasty and depressing story, I am unsettled by the belief that not all of it can be fiction and even if a little is true, it's cause enough for sadness and concern. Of note was the way in which Maria related to her loverboy - it came across as strange because it was the wrong kind of strange. The relationship with a "loverboy" - a dutch term for a guy that uses the guise of love and promise of a future together in order to convince a woman to prostitute herself for his benefit - is for me, by definition, strange: a woman, because she has "fallen in love", accepts things/situations that are clearly not loving. The relationship gets more complicated with time, but the desire of the woman for her loverboy and his (positive) attention to her remains, irrelevant of everything that has happened. Maria tries to convey that desire, but it falls flat as it misses the echos of a longing for an addiction that you know you need to rid yourself of.

Maria, as she presents herself in the book, is not a sympathetic character. She is unmotivated and lazy with regard to school and studies. She claims to be looking for trouble in the beginning of the book. She claims to know how to manipulate people well. She acknowledges lying (or at least withholding information) in regard to police actions in a rape case. She regularly does drugs. She doesn't appear to care much about other people - she expresses some desire of protection for her friend and sister - but generally seems indifferent. If such a character were to write a book, what kind of book could we expect? A book that bends the truth and tells people what they want to hear (i.e., manipulates) seems not unlikely.

Yet, even if I find Maria presented in the book to be rather unlikable, I do find it a pity that her story has been completely dismissed. Her book suggests that she knows a lot about having sex with strangers - and not good sex (and this is only partially because she was a minor when it happened). It is also obvious that she was mixed up and hanging out with a bad crowd. Both of these things should raise questions amongst Christians and Dutch society (see Guardian article from 2009). It should also raise questions about how much catering to popular taste messes with truth - both on the side of the writer and on the side of the reader. Have we avoided the real story - both with Maria and others - because a story was written that would sell?

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