18 August 2012

Recommended reading over prostitution: Achter het raam by Patricia Perquin

Of all the books I've read, probably the most accessible and realistic book that I've read thus far is that of Patricia Perquin (Achter het raam - currently available only in Dutch). Several of the more academic studies that I've read, especially those incorporating the words of prostitutes and clients, probably provide more accurate accounts that lack the necessary flourishing of a novel and the bias of a story written by one person. Other books also capture better the problems of human trafficking (recommended is De Fatale Fuik) or loverboys/pimps. Nonetheless, if you were only to read one book about prostitution and the Red Light District, I'd recommend this one (supplementing it by reading the newspaper and/or watching news programmes).

This book comes after a series of articles in Het Parool written by Patricia, someone who claimed to work several years as a prostitute in the Red Light District. It's thus written from an insider's perspective. Based on my conversations with the women working and what I've read about prostitution, it seems to provide a fairly balanced picture. Not all prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, nor under the influence of loverboys or pimps. Neither is the work solely glamorous, as one might conclude from the recent book, Ouwehoeren. Instead, for many women, prostitution is something in between or, perhaps, another category completely.

The book does a good job in raising good questions and it especially gives a good picture of how emotionally difficult the work can be - from a lack of respect given to those working behind the windows to the complicated relationships with the other women to the demands on her person. It details a bit of the actual work that she does but she doesn't let that overwhelm the book - partly because she doesn't sensationalize it. And she raises questions about what might not be good about how we respond to the work she does: how helpful are the umpteen organisations offering help? how easy is it to leave the work? should the work not be more regulated (i.e., should someone who can speak neither English nor Dutch be allowed to work in the Red Light District? What receipts can actually be claimed for taxes? Should there be a maximum hours per week that someone can work in prostitution and how do you regulate that?). I know a number of others who have now read the book, and I look forward to talking more about it and the questions it raises.

Because Patricia remains anonymous and because her words correspond well with the 1012 project to clean up the Wallen, this leads to suspicious about how true her story really is. The fact that she never mentions the annoyance of tourists, one of the most common complaints of all the women, also raises questions about her story. One fascinating reaction to her book is found on the blog, "the experiences of a prostitute." (before you click on the link, you should be warned that the author writes in Dutch and sometimes uses crass language). The writer of the blog, another person claiming to be a prostitute also writing anonymously, is rather sceptical of Patricia and negative about what she has written. Yet, she also has some things to say about prostitution that I think ought to be heard. The following is a translation of a few sentences middle in the blog entry linked to above:

"Prostitutes are often depicted as murder victims in crime shows and books. Not surprising, as many people consider prostitutes not to be real people. We are seen as inferior, and people who want to harm others find it easier to do that to prostitutes. That is a problem and a danger.... We are not actually outlaws, but we are more vulnerable because many people believe that we are. And thus we must learn to stand up for ourselves..."

this blog entry has been cross-posted on the blog: the Kronemeijers' recent reading

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