Prostitution – The Moral Question

 

Prostitution in Amsterdam - Photo copyright Jack Vanderwyk

My youngest daughters were 9 and 12 when one day we passed the Red Light District on our way home. Prostitutes where sitting in the red lighted windows, showing their merchandise. The girls were curious and asked, “Mum, what are these women doing there?” My wife explained that these were prostitutes, women that go to bed with men, for money.  

Francesca, the youngest, said to her sister, “I don’t ever want to become a prostitute. Do you, Maria?” 

“Me neither,” said Maria.  

 Mind you, the girls didn’t have any moral objections against prostitutes. The profession just didn’t appeal to them.  

 A lot of people believe that prostitution is immoral, but that simple fact doesn’t make it true.  

I would like to draw the line with exploitation. As soon as a prostitute is exploited, as soon as she is a prostitute against her will, prostitution is immoral, and certainly (should be) illegal. Of course this statement includes all minors.

This raises another question: if a prostitute is a drug addict, is she prostituting herself out of free will? Or does her addiction force her to prostitute herself, and is it therefore immoral? No, no way would she be happy if the police would forbid her to be a prostitute, because she’s an addict and desperately needs the money to buy drugs. Yes, very likely she would find illegal means to get money, like shoplifting or breaking and entering.  

For twelve years I worked in special probation services, with serious drug addicts, many of them being prostitutes. I saw these emaciated women work the streets of New York and Amsterdam, and I knew they were much cheaper than healthy prostitutes. At first I thought they were just attracting men who can’t afford to pay for a healthy prostitute, but the contrary proved to be true. I saw them being picked up by men in very expensive cars, “respectable” businessmen, and then I realised that it was all about power.  

These wealthy men didn’t want to go to healthy, proud, confident prostitutes, because a healthy, proud, confident prostitute has the power. She calls the shots. These men were specifically looking for weak women, who needed their money badly, and would do anything for it. These men wanted to be in power.  

Besides being a political colleague, Tom was my GP. A wonderful doctor and a wonderful human being. I was devastated when national TV reported that this well known politician was a regular visitor of heroin prostitutes in the industrial zones of the city. Not as a GP but as a client. Happily married Tom didn’t fit the description of the typical client of heroin prostitutes. He wasn’t after power, he didn’t even have a car. He was just too decent.  

“Jack, all I can say is that it’s not what you think. You have to trust me,” said Tom when I asked him about this matter. I trusted Tom, but not enough, I admit, to let it rest.  

Until this incident, Tom was a very popular GP in the posh south centre of Amsterdam. A lot of his posh patients were powerful, demanding women. To make matters worse, his wife was a powerful, demanding woman.  

One day I met an ex-client, Nicole, who still was working the streets in the industrial zones. “Have you heard the story about this politician?” I asked semi-discreetly.  

“You mean Tom,” she said. “He’s a darling. All he wants is to complain about his bossy wife and his bossy clients. He has never actually touched any of us.” 

So yes, I guess it was all about power. Or, in this case, the lack of it. And I remembered the stories of the prostitutes I grew up with. I remembered them saying that a significant part of their job was listening, being a social worker, without any sexuality involved. And I believe them.  

 Some people use the term “prostituted women” to convey the idea that prostitution is something done to women, not something that can be chosen. Although this may be true in several cases, I strongly oppose to this opinion. During my life in the Red Light District I have met many prostitutes who were perfectly happy with their lives and their profession. Surely, if they would win a big prize in the lottery, they would stop being a prostitute. (Most healthy prostitutes play the lottery, for that matter.) I love to write, but I would stop doing it as soon as I would be a millionaire. Does that mean that writing is something done to writers, not something that can be chosen? 

For two years I ran a bar in the Amsterdam Red Light District, for a friend whose wife died and who was in a clinic, recovering from alcoholism. This bar was visited by many prostitutes, who trusted me and shared their misery with me. I have seen them come, and I have seen them go. Some of them never returned. A lot of them did return, though. At first just for one afternoon a week, to get some “real” money for Christmas presents. Then for two afternoons a week, because nice clothes and shoes are so expensive. Then for four afternoons a week, because they needed a new car, a fancy one, and the bank wouldn’t give them a loan. Then full time, because the kids were going to university and you want to give them the best you can.  

In these cases the women had a choice. Not the choice between poverty and wealth, but the choice between an average income and wealth. Some of the women who made that choice explained to me that if you are used to relative wealth, so you hardly ever have to economise, it’s very hard to get used to a life in which you have to economise, and that it’s very hard to resist that one client who will give you the money for those $400 boots in return for an hour of your time. The problem is, some women just can’t have enough shoes or handbags. And there’s another thing: some (probably most) women love to be adored, and when a client picks you out of ten or a thousand other prostitutes, you must be special. At least to that client.  

Several years ago almost 80% of the prostitutes in Amsterdam were illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe and South America. Today most of them are still there, being legalised in the mean time, and they provide an income for their families abroad. In fact, there is no difference between their male compatriots, who are working as plasterers, bricklayers, and carpenters. In fact, in that respect, nothing has changed in the last 700 years.

About Jack Vanderwyk

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