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Panel of customers advises Amsterdam City Council on well-being of prostitutes

DutchAmsterdam.nl — A panel of customers of prostitutes in Amsterdam has been advising the city since this summer on issues such as human trafficking and forced prostitution.

The unoffical panel was set up by Paul Hulshof, a researcher with Amsterdam-based DSP-groep — a independent company that specialises in research, consultancy and management for local, regional, national and European authorities.

Last year the city asked DSP Groep to research the customers of window-prostitutes.

The research was commissioned in part to study the possible effects of Amsterdam’s efforts to ‘clean up’ its Red Light District.

One of the recommendations DSP Groep made in its report was to engage customers of window prostitution in policy making by creating a panel of customers.

This panel will function as a discussion-forum: customers can answer questions the city wants answered or the other way around.

The customers “can be an important source of information,” Hulshof says, pointing out that it is in the clients’ best interest to help minimize abuse in the industry.

Voluntary prostitution is a legal profession in the Netherlands. Forced prostitution is illegal.

Customers of prostitutes possess information that is of interest to the city council, police and social workers. They have direct contact with prostitutes
and therefore know the consequences of the policy implemented. Some customers can even compare policies in different countries and can thus provide information on the expected effects of policy changes.

For this reason we recommend that the city council constructs a (consultation) panel in which customers are able to participate anonymously. Communication would flow in two directions: customers would inform the city council of what they come across and the city council would give customers information which they can then spread to other customers verbally or via the Internet. There is definite interest among a section of customers to actively help combat offenses in prostitution. The city council could utilize this by taking them seriously and supplying them with relevant information. Customers could also be encouraged to make anonymous reports of abuses more often.
– Source: Customers of Window Prostitution, Paul Hulshof, DSP Groep. SummaryoffsitePDF file

Hulshof recruited 17 consumer panel members recruited via websites hookers.nl and ignatzmice.com, where people who visit prostitutes share their experiences and make recommendations.

As with visitors of the Red Light District half of the panel members are not from the Netherlands.

Hulshof says the group is still too small to be representative, but their input has already seen some result. Information received from the online panel rvealed that many prostitutes’ customers are unaware of how to report abuse they may have observed.

The researcher learned that foreign customers in particular are unfamiliar with local Dutch initiatives like the independent organization Meld Misdaad Anoniem (Report Crime Anonymously), a phone line where people who have information regarding a crime or suspected crime can make anonymous reports [0800 – 7000, free call]. The organisation shares credible information with the appropriate authorities.

The Amsterdam City Council is now committed to putting up posters in Dutch and English to alert visitors to the crime reporting line. In January 2006 a similiar campaign used only Dutch language posters.

Critics say the city’s policy of reducing window prostitution, as part of efforts to spruce up and repurpose Amsterdam’s city centre, will force many prostitutes underground — possibly subjecting them to abuse and exploitation.
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