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Just Business? The Unknown World of Male Prostitution in the Netherlands

 

1. Introduction

The vibrant Red Light District in Amsterdam is one of the most important, but also one of the most controversial tourist attractions in the Netherlands. On all but two small streets, women sell their bodies for sex. In the Barndesteeg and the Bloedstraat, one can find transgender or transsexual prostitutes. Men are nowhere to be found behind windows. Instead, they operate in parks, gay bars, gay clubs, chat rooms and illegal brothels.

Male prostitution is hardly discussed in the Netherlands, but it is out there – in every province, region and city. It is therefore important to raise awareness about the existence of these boys and men. During our quest to paint a picture of male prostitution in the country, we were often surprised by the helpfulness of the community even while being shocked about some of the details of the business.

Male prostitution is characterized by three major taboos. First, receiving money for sex is not generally accepted (from either male or female clients). Second, homosexuality is still stigmatized. And third, men are not “supposed” to be the victims of prostitution or sexual abuse, which often leads to their not seeking professional help when they need it (Repetur, 2011). 

Telephone calls, emails, face-to-face interviews, and visits to gay bars and dating sites such as bullchat.nl provided us with the information for this report. Here, we will discuss two cases which represent the extreme ends of the spectrum for male prostitution in the Netherlands. 

On websites like bullchat.nl, gayromeo.com, gay4chat.nl, one can easily find men who want to have a “paydate”. The majority of this group work voluntarily, and are not solely dependent on income from these practices. It is very easy to get a paydate through one of these websites. Chapter 2 will elaborate more about the phenomenon of paydates and chat rooms. Unfortunately, illegal brothels also exist. Little is known about these private houses, where predominantly foreign boys are forced to work as  prostitutes. Chapter 3 will describe how the Utrecht police deal with male trafficking and illegal prostitution.

We have found that the majority of male prostitution is voluntary. Most of these sex workers are not dependent upon the money that they earn by performing sexual acts. Even those forced to work in illegal brothels began on a voluntary basis. One of our most valuable findings was is that the internet plays an important structural role in the broadening the range of male prostitution in the Netherlands. Chapter 4 summarizes its crucial impact. Whereas a small group of men offer their services in (gay) bars and clubs, the vast majority seek customers through the internet, including men who work in illegal brothels. 

We only exposed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to male prostitution in the Netherlands; there is much more research to be conducted on the topic. This is an underground world, and gaining access to some parts of the community is a challenging and often risky practice.

2. Paydates

On a Friday afternoon, we talked with five men in a gay bar about male prostitution. Their surprised reactions point to the underexposure of this industry. Without beating about the bush, the men we met here introduced us to the phenomenon of ´paydates´. 

Paydates are sex dates, organized via different websites such as bullchat.nl and chatboy.nl. On these websites, men can easily make an appointment to have sex for money or other rewards, such as gifts or dinners.  In this way, prospective clients and male prostitutes can directly arrange in-person appointments without needing to rely on a brothel or club. Consequently, the internet allows for a greater variety of choice and convenience for both sex worker and client.

However, the men who go on paydates would not identify themselves as prostitutes. This term is probably reserved for females in the Red Light District or to people who consider sex work their full time job. The term "paydate" also indicates the voluntary – and perhaps more pleasurable – characteristic of these meetings. One of the men in the café told us that he himself had had paydates in the past, as both a client and provider. The reason for prostituting himself was that he could use the money, and he also found it pleasurable. His clients, he explains, trusted him with their fantasies. Of course, there were men whom he did not find attractive, but he had various tricks to overcome that problem. 

Jacques van der Kolk of the Prostitution and Health Center of the Public Health Care (GGD) described most clients and providers as identifying as bi- or homosexual.  One example of men who voluntarily prostitute themselves through paydates is students. Under cover of anonymity, internet chat rooms increase access to male prostitutes by removing the stigma associated with visiting a physical meeting place (such as an bar, club, or park). They also increase access for those who wish to become a male sex worker, want to to do so without a pimp, escort service, club, or brothel. These sex workers are able. The independence provided by the internet for sex work allows these men to maintain control over the money received for their services, and to become entrepreneurs with control over with whom, when, and how much they work.

Part of van der Kolk’s work with the GGD is to use the paydate websites to inform users of the resources that exist at the health center for help. These resources include STD tests, legal advice, psychosocial aid, and assistance in quiting prostitution. Most prostitutes come for the free STD tests that are offered. According to the GGD, 20%-25% of the males who prostitute themselves have STDs, in comparison to 5% of the female prostitutes. These statistics could be explained by the fact that unsafe sex is generally more accepted in the gay community, with some male prostitutes willing to have unsafe sex during a paydate for an extra fee.

Although the male prostitutes who visit the health center usually work voluntarily, they nevertheless have various physical and psychological problems. While it is infrequent, the GGD does occasionally come across signs of forced  prosecution when a male prostitute comes, for example, for an STD test. In such a case, the social workers will help the person and encourage him to go to the police. In the case of minors, the social workers have a legal obligation to report the suspicion of abuse. The following chapter will elaborate on the process of notifying the police of forced male prosecution.

Even though the gay community is open about the existence of paydates, this remains largely under the surface. Reasons for the insignificant attention and research given to the topic of male prostitution have been postulated, and generally involve the three taboos against prostitution , homosexuality and weak masculinity set out in the introduction. Within the gay community itself, paying for sex, or being paid for sex, is not at all a big deal. If you feel like it, you go on one of the websites and arrange a (sex)date. It is as simple as that. 

Paydates illustrate a major difference between female and male prostitution. Whereas female prostitution is visible on the streets (for example, in the Red Light District), and there has been much discussion about the forced prosecution of women, paydates are generally voluntary and organized through the internet, and thus much less visible. However, there are exceptions to this voluntary nature. While the paydates may begin voluntarily they can still slide into forced prostitution, which makes use of the same websites to offer sexual services. The following chapter will report on examples of sexdates made via the internet that are not of a true voluntary nature, and discuss the enabling role of the internet in these cases.

3. Forced male prostitution in the Netherlands

Illegal male prostitution in the Netherlands can be roughly divided into three categories. First, there are under-aged boys and men who offer their services in (gay) bars and clubs, such as a group of Romanian men in Amsterdam whom we studied (Kooistra, 2011). These men operate in bars around the Rembrandplein. Men who offer their services through gay websites on the internet form the second group. In contrast to the first and second categories, the third group of men do not work voluntarily; they are coerced to work as prostitutes.

While the police close down several brothels each year, they find it very difficult to estimate the total number of illegal male brothels in the Netherlands. There is currently only one legal male brothel in the country, Club 21 in Amsterdam.

In February 2010, a middle-aged man was arrested on suspicion of running an illegal brothel in the city of Amersfoort. In this brothel, which was located in the house of the suspect, between 10 and 20 young men of Eastern European and South American origin were found. Their passports had been taken from them, and they had been told that they had huge debts for travelling costs which they would have to pay back by working in the brothel (Police Utrecht, 2011).

Physical violence is not often used as a method to coerce these young men into prostitution; non-violent measures are used instead. Most men enter the prostitution business voluntarily, primarily to earn money. When offered a job over the internet, some of them already know that they will be working as a homosexual prostitute. The promise of a better future in the West draws these men, who will often take on a loan with an exorbitantly high interest rate.  Upon their arrival, they are required to work for a low wage which makes it nearly impossible for them to pay back the loan. The methods of coercion used by the brothel owners include seizing passports or threatening to expose the men their families. Many of these prostitutes are from conservative countries in Eastern Europe or South America, where such work carries an enormous amount of stigma. They are told that prostitution is illegal in the Netherlands, and that the police will be unable to help them if they report themselves.  
 
Many men are given drugs, and use Viagra and Poppers (muscle relaxers to facilitate anal penetration) in order to perform better. In addition, many of them do not use condoms, as this enables them to make more money. In one case, nearly 70% of the boys in the brothel were infected with sexually transmitted diseases, compared to an average of 20-25% in other branches of male prostitution (Van der Kolk, 2011).  
 
The police has limited resources to find illegal brothels, since they are not legally permitted to infiltrate these places. Instead, they rely on clients, the prostitutes themselves, and neighbors who report suspicious activities to the police. Often, prostitutes are scared to go to the police, and are not convinced that the police can help them escape their miserable situation. Even in cases of personal contact between the police and the prostitutes, the men often are too afraid of reprisals from their pimps and/or traffickers. 
 
Whenever the police have a strong reason to believe that they have encountered a case of human trafficking or illegal prostitution, they are legally obligated to intervene immediately. This is because of the Absoluut Doorlaatverbod, a law introduced by former Minister Rouvoet which requires immediate intervention in cases of suspected human trafficking or illegal prostitution. This can have the effect of ultimately restricting police from investigating further and building a stronger case against the perpetrator(s) of the crimes.
 
This section has offered a picture of forced male prostitution as it currently occurs in the Netherlands. As mentioned earlier, even the police cannot precisely estimate the number of illegal brothels in the country. They simply lack the resources to more deeply investigate the true extent of these brothels.; such a lack of resources, in turn, is partly a function of the taboos against male prostitution within the Dutch political sphere.

4. The role of the internet

The two groups of male prostitutes described above demonstrate how fluid the identity of the male prostitute can be.  The general acceptance of promiscuity  within the gay community distinguishes male prostitutes from female and transgender prostitutes. As a result, a man exchanging sexual services for monetary reward is not always defined as a prostitute. Pay dates demonstrate the gray area when it comes to the acceptability of any male to receive payment for sexual services.
 
According to Jacques van der Kolk of the GGD, another source of ambiguity when trying to  define male prostitution is the different roles that prostitutes can assume when engaging in male-to-male sex. A significant portion of sex workers who identify as heterosexual justify this designation by the fact that they only take the active role during anal sex (penetration) and passive role during oral sex (receiving). For these heterosexual male prostitutes engaging in sex with other males, to conduct sexual acts in any other role (either the passive role in anal sex, or active role in oral sex) crosses the line into homosexuality.
 
The ease of access and anonymity in the world of prostitution further encourages such a fluid identity on the part of the male prostitute. The extensive reliance on internet chat forums means that both clients and prostitutes can slip in and out of soliciting and buying sexual services attheir own convenience. In contrast to heterosexual prostitution (which consists primarily of female and transgender sex workers), here, the definitional criteria of exchanging sex for monetary reward can differ with the type of payment, frequency of occurrence, and most importantly, the attitude held toward the transaction.
 
As our exploration into the world of male sex services demonstrates, clients may find these sex workers in a variety of areas. Escort services, clubs, private homes, parks, and internet chat rooms all serve as places to meet and negotiate a transaction. Physical locations like clubs, brothels, escort services, and parks still facilitate a significant portion of the meetings. prostitution. However, the internet has emerged as the primary forum for finding and arranging meet-ups for sex and monetary . 
 
As a virtual meeting place, the internet provides two crucial elements: anonymity and ease of access. Prospective clients can easily transcend physical constraints, and arrange meet-ups with male sex workers across city or even national boundaries. Internet chat rooms allow for anonymity through usernames and masked IP addresses. With this anonymity, internet chat rooms increase access to male prostitutes by removing the stigma associated with visiting a physical meeting place (such as an bar, club, or park). It also increases access for those wishing to become male sex workers without the help of a pimp, escort service, club, or brothel. Consequently, these workers are able to maintain control over the money they receive for their services.
 
In addition, male sex workers have greater mobility.  In an interview with the Utrecht Police Department, we were told that one distinguishing feature of male prostitution is the constant pressure to move from city to city. The average time spent by full-time workers in each city is around 21 days. Clients often prefer male prostitutes to be young or “fresh” to the local scene. GGD, Amsterdam’s Municipal Public Health Service, described how the sprinkling of Pride Parades throughout Europe is one distinguishable pattern of male prostitute migration. The Parades provide a steady clientele and adapt well to the demand for young and fresh faces. 
 
Because of this mobility, the Utrecht Police pointed out, male prostitutes often have a lack of legal understanding. Specifically in the Netherlands, they are unaware of the legality of prostitution and may end up in the bureaucratic nightmare of being unregistered. The relative question of what exactly constitutes a male prostitute also makes prostitution difficult to regulate even within the legalized Dutch system. A large portion of sexual activities (such as “pay dates”) involve monetary compensation but would not be defined, by either the client or sex worker, as prostitution.
 
The extensive use of the internet to find and arrange meet-ups with male sex workers also complicates any government efforts at regulation or investigation into cases of abuse or trafficking. Kooistra described how government shutdowns of chat forums used for finding and meeting male prostitutes would simply sprout up within a few hours at another site. The digitally connected gay community is able to adapt quickly, drawing users to the new site. 
 
However, male prostitutes can no longer depend on simply being a young, fresh face ino the local scene. Kooistra describes a  new trend among clients towards an increased preference for male sex workers with more sexual experience.  The increased access to the sex trade afforded by the internet has generated a wide supply of men – greater, Kooistra contended, than the demand – with the result that experience now significantly matters in selecting a prostitute. 
 
The extensive reliance of male prostitution on the internet demonstrates the central role of adaptability within this community. Kooistra explained that the anonymity and mobility of the gay community was the original reason for its gravitating toward using the internet. In turn, the internet is what allows the male prostitution to remain anonymous and mobile. What these trends indicate, Kooistra contends, is increased entrepreneurship within the world of male sex work. Technological advancements – especially through smart phones and applications – allow male sex workers to find and arrange meet-ups with clients and most importantly, allow them to retain agency over profits independent of pimps or escort services. With the barriers to  sex work only decreasing, the rapid evolution of the internet—and its users—will be followed by an equally rapid evolution of the male prostitution community. 

5. Conclusion & Recommendations

The world of male prostitution was more accessible than we initially thought it would be. After only a few days, we planned interviews with social workers, the Utrecht police department and even talked to former sex workers. Whereas the female prostitution scene is very visible in big cities in the Netherlands, male prostitution remains underground. Without the internet, male prostitution would be structured completely different.  Men who occasionally engage in male prostitution, and those who are coerced to work in illegal brothels find their clients on the internet.
 
A defining characteristic of male prostitution is the disparity between the overwhelming majority of sex workers who operate voluntarily on the internet, and the much smaller minority who are coerced into it. Compared to female prostitution, the gap between these groups appears to be larger. There seems to be only a small group of men who are dependent on the income but engage in the work voluntarily.
 
Perhaps one of the most important conclusions we can draw is about the impact that the taboo on homosexuality and prostitution has on the male prostitution scene. Not only does this taboo exist in society at large, but also among social workers, professionals and politicians. Public campaigns to increase awareness of homosexuality and male prostitution can decrease their stigma, and eventually decrease the demand for illegal prostitution (Police Utrecht, 2011). In addition, more resources need to be made available to effectively combat male trafficking and illegal prostitution. 

6. Epilogue

Monday, 9 AM: one week before the deadline of our report. We meet at the public library to discuss how we plan to approach the topic that we have been allocated. Thanks to IHLIA, some creativity, Google and mobile phones, a vague picture begins to emerge of the full spectrum of male prostitution in the Netherlands. A manager of a gay escort company in Amsterdam tells us about his boys, and tells us that all of them sincerely like the work they are doing.
 
In the afternoon, we decide to go to the Rode Draad, an organization that fights for the interests of male prostitutes. The office is empty, and we decide to talk to some of the transssexual and transgendered prostitutes in the Bloedstraat and Barnesteeg. When we finally conquer our fears, the three of us realize that these are friendly people with emotions and free will. They tell us they work independently, but swiftly close their door when a Latino man in a black suit appears behind us. When taking a break at a market square, we are approached by a man who wants to sell his CD to us. We get into a  conversation and tell him that we are doing a project on male prostitution. He responds with: “a friend of mine is one!”, and  gives us his friend's contact information. We arrange a meeting.
 
We kick off Friday with an interview at the Utrecht Police Station. Their work to counter human trafficking and illegal prostitution inspires us. We rush back to Amsterdam for a meeting with public health workers in the municipality of Amsterdam. On our way to the library, we decide to have a drink in a gay bar at the Zeedijk, where we have an illuminating conversation with the men present. There, we also run into Oebele Kooistra, the former head of the Rode Draad and a former male escort.
 
Having gathered so much information in such a small time frame is tiring, but rewarding. Every one of us has gained very valuable insights in the shady world of male prostitution. 

7. Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all the people who have provided us with information on male prostitution in the Netherlands: 
  • Utrecht Police Department
  • Oebele Kooistra
  • Jacques van der Kolk
  • Lou Repetur
  • Tania Barkhuis
  • The men at the gay bar

8. Interviews

Annex I 
Summary of telephone interview with Lou Repetur (Comensha, author of the book Vrijbuiters uitgebuit: minderjarige jongens in de prostitutie
 
Many boys initially prostitute themselves voluntarily, either being underage (<18 years old) or adults. By law, prostitution under the age of 18 is illegal, regardless of whether the  prostitute has consented. There are three taboos surrounding male prostitution: 
 
1)Prostitution
2)Homosexuality
3)Victimization: in male-female sex, the male is accustomed to checking with the female about her limits. In male-male sex, “demarcating” limits is often not done, which can result in one person being hurt from of a specific sexual act that is too much for him. 
 
The taboo on homosexual(ity) and prostitution is also visible in (mental) public health care. Health workers are often not used to dealing with male prostitutes. The distinction between forced male prostitution and voluntary prostitution is greater than with female prostitution. A vast group of men prostitute themselves voluntarily, only a small group become dependent on the money, and yet a smaller group are forced to be prostitutes.
 
Annex II
In-person interview summary with Tania Barkhuis (Director of COC Amsterdam)
 
There is a demand for new, young and exotic boys within the male prostitution community. This makes male trafficking into prostitution a lucrative business. Traffickers often tell young men seeking asylum in the Netherlands that they are unlikely to receive a Dutch visa. As a result, these men are persuaded by traffickers to go instead to the UK, where they discover that to pay their debt for travel, they must enter prostitution in the UK. This group therefore becomes vulnerable to male prostitution and the practices of pimps, such as financial exploitation and trafficking between European cities. 
 
Boys often travel between cities and regions by themselves, using public transport.
 
Annex III
Summary of Conversation with Oebele Kooistra
 
Kooistra is the former director of Rode Draad, an organization for sex workers in Amsterdam. He also recently finished conducting a year of field work investigating the world of male sex workers in he Netherlands. In this interview, Kooistra stressed the business nature of male sex work. Most men, especially concerning paydates, voluntarily choose to do sex work. It’s more about the money and the sex than about coercion. Kooistra emphasized the crucial role of the internet, through chat rooms such as Bullchat, in facilitating easy and quick meet-ups between sex workers and clients. I The evolution of the smartphone and iPhone applications, like Grinder Guy and Male Force,  has further increased the use of the internet to arrange clients with sex workers.  Kooistra argued that the internet has increased exposure to a wider range of sexual activities, to the extent that even heterosexual boys are curious about engaging in male-to-male sex. There is a rising trend in favor of experience over simply being young and “fresh”. Kooistra characterizes the male sex worker community overall as adaptive and able to effectively utilize the internet for their work. This has allowed these males to essentially become entrepreneurs of their own sex work business, arranging their own appointments and clients. Kooistra predicts that the internet will continue to take over the prostitution business, rendering the traditional brothel, and even the infamous windows, obsolete in he Netherlands. 
 
Annex IV
Interview at Department X (anonymous) of the Utrecht Police
 
Department X of the Utrecht police deals with human trafficking and illegal prostitution in the area around Utrecht, about 40 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam. There is no strict division between male and gay prostitution; most men work in the business voluntarily. In the gay scene, prostitution (paying for sex) is more common and accepted than is the case for female prostitution. Forced male prostitution also occurs, and predominantly involves foreign boys. In one current court case, a middle-aged man from place Y is charged with running an illegal brothel in his own house. Many of the boys who worked in the house were from South America or Eastern Europe. As many as 14 boys (all above 18) were forced to work in prostitution.
 
Violence is not often used as a way of coercing young men. Many of the men have been saddled with debts, which they must work to pay back. Passports have also been taken from these young men, who work and live in miserable circumstances. They have to find clients through the internet, and are given Viagra and Poppers (muscle relaxers that make anal penetration easier) to perform. Salaries range from 50 euros for oral sex, to 100 euro for anal sex. Sex without a condom is more expensive, as well as a nightly stay-over.
 
The police have limited resources to find brothels without permits. Officers cannot go undercover, but can only rely on reports of suspicions on the part of customers or neighbors. 
 
Former Minister Andre Rouvoet introduced the Absoluut Doorlaatverbod, a law that requires police officers to act immediately when there are signs of human trafficking and/or illegal prostitution. While this law is helpful for victims of these crimes, it often prevents the police from having enough time to gather sufficient evidence and build a thorough case against the perpetrator, who will consequently face less charges and be able to commence his activities once more.
 
The taboo on homosexuality is a crucial aspect of male prostitution. Especially in the Bible Belt, homosexuality often results in expulsion from one's community. Often, these boys and men end up in prostitution. 
 
Annex V
Summary of Interview at Sjaak van der Kolk
 
Jaques van der Kolk wanders the gay bars and websites where males offer sexual services, such as bullchat.nl, with the objective of informing these males of the existence of the GGD, where they can inter alia obtain a free HIV test. While it is difficult to make an accurate estimation, van der Kolk has counted 650 profiles of male prostitutes on the known websites like bullchat.nl in Amsterdam, and about 6000 in the Netherlands. About 50% of these sex workers are Dutch, and the other half are foreign. There are two groups of prostitutes and similarly, two groups of clients: those who are homosexual, and those who consider themselves straight, but like to have sex with men. Van der Kolk says that a male who comes to the clinic for a STD test will never admit that he sees male prostitutes, whereas males who go to female prostitutes do come forward. This, once again, illustrates the taboo on male prostitution. The GGD tries to have these men who come for the test to commit to coming to the center once every 3 months. The GGD itself holds consultations with the police, youth care officials and lawyers every three weeks with regard to problems that they – and especially male prostitutes – encounter. 
 
Annex VI
Summary of interview with former male prostitutes and men in a bar in Amsterdam 
 
A man of approximately 40 years old is introduced to us by a fellow customer of the bar, who states, when he walks in, ‘Marco, didn’t you play the prostitute when you were younger?’. ‘Yeah, sure’ Marco responds with a grin on his face. Marco tells us that he prostituted himself when he was around 20 years old. He also has paid men to have sex. It was all quite easy, exciting, and provided a nice extra income. Marco has had sex with men whom he did not find attractive. ‘For a man, that is a problem’, he explains, ‘because you have to get it up, and ejaculate, right?’. Marco’s solution to this problem is to become overly self-complacent and conceited. And to just close your eyes. Sex between men is just different than between a man and a woman. While females usually set the boundaries,  men usually only want more with regard to sex. Therefore, when men have sex there often are no boundaries at all. Marco is very open with us, and tells us about his HIV seropositivity, which is already a less taboo subject among gays than in the straight world. He has been HIV seropositive since over 10 years. He knows who infected him with HIV, but does not hold this person responsible. ‘It is your own responsibility to have safe sex, as it was mine’ he stated.
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Netherlands Netherlands 2011

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