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 “pay-date”. The majority of this group work voluntarily, and are not solely dependent on income from these practices. It is very easy to get a pay-date through one of these websites. Chapter 2 will elaborate more about the phenomenon of pay-dates 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.
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 ´pay-dates´.
Pay-dates 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 pay-dates 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 “pay-date” 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 quitting 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 pay-date for an extra fee.
Although the male prostitutes who visit the health centre 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 pay-dates, 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.
Pay-dates 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, pay-dates are generally voluntary and organized through the internet, and thus much less visible.
However, there are exceptions to this voluntary nature. While the pay-dates 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 sex-dates 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).