- A woman says she quit her job as a nurse to become a sex worker in Amsterdam.
- Karin, 57, told Insider that her former job made her want to help patients who have “needs.”
- She works for an agency that caters to clients with disabilities and health issues.
“When I’m working, I don’t dress like this,” Karin, a sex worker from the Netherlands, tells me over coffee in Amsterdam’s Red Light District (RLD).
When we met in October, Karin, 57, was wearing jeans, a sweater, and minimal makeup for a day of meetings at Amsterdam’s Prostitution Information Center (PIC) in the RLD. The center is run by sex workers who want to inform the public about sex work in the Netherlands and to end the stigma that surrounds it, according to its website.
Karin isn’t her real name, but it’s the one she uses when working or when giving talks to the public and journalists at the PIC. She said using a pseudonym and different clothing — with certain items sometimes being requested by clients — allow her to separate the job from her personal life.
Eight years ago, Karin tells me, she quit her job as a nurse to become a sex worker. Since then, she has been employed by an escort agency (she wouldn’t disclose the company’s name for privacy reasons), which she said caters to clients with disabilities and health issues.
Karin says being a nurse inspired her to become a sex worker
Karin’s former job as a district nurse involved treating patients at their homes and others who resided in nursing homes. She said that she “noticed that there were patients who had mental or physical disabilities, but they also had their needs like the next man.”
“I felt sorry for these people, because as a nurse you can’t help them unless you want to lose your job,” she said.
The agency Karin works for takes note of any disabilities or health issues clients may have so that escorts are aware of “how to handle certain medical things,” she said. For example, she said if you have a client who is in a wheelchair you must be aware of the correct way to help them out of the chair and into bed.
Karin said the starting rate for her clients is €140, or around $162, for one hour. The agency takes around €45, or about $52, and Karin takes the rest after deducting tax.
She is in the process of applying for registration to work in the windows of the RLD. When the paperwork goes through, Karin said she plans to balance window work with her current job at the agency.
Karin said sex work is similar to her former job as a nurse because both require the ability to “leave it behind you” when you go home.
There’s still a stigma against sex workers in the Netherlands
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to legalize sex work for consenting adults in 1999, according to an article by Joyce Outshoorn in the “Sexuality Research and Social Policy” journal.
Today, there are more than 6,750 sex workers in Amsterdam and around 600 of those are licensed escorts, according to figures shown in Amsterdam’s Red Light Secrets Museum during my visit in October.
Despite this, there is still a stigma surrounding sex work.
“The city council says it’s humiliating for the women,” Karin said. “The thing that irritates us hugely is they decide what’s good for us. Mother knows best.”
While there isn’t a known record of the council publicly making that statement, it is said to be planning changes within the RLD. The council has agreed to implement a proposal from the mayor, Femke Halsema, to shut down a significant number of windows and relocate the sex workers to another area, The Guardian reported in February.
In a letter to the city council in July 2019, Halsema wrote that sex workers had become a “sightseeing attraction, often laughed at, verbally abused, and photographed against their will.”
Karin said there’s a misconception that all sex workers are victims of human trafficking, which is defined by the United Nations as people being forced to work through “force, fraud or deception” for a profit.
It’s not clear how many sex workers in the Netherlands are victims of human trafficking. Depending on the definitions used, the estimates could range drastically, between 10% and 90%, according to figures shown in the Red Light Secrets Museum during my visit.
While the museum describes human trafficking as “recruitment, transportation, sale, and exploiting of people” that is a “common phenomenon” within sex work, the different forms of human trafficking can vary. According to the charitable organization Stop the Traffik, the different forms include sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, labor exploitation, forced marriage, organ harvesting, forced criminality, drug trade, and child soldiers.
According to the Walk Free Foundation’s 2018 Global Slavery Index — which ranked 167 countries based on their approach to human trafficking — the Netherlands was the only nation to score an “A,” meaning that it does the most to protect victims.
Amsterdam has worked to combat illegal sex work through “carrying out more joint inspections together with the police and other partners” since 2016, according to the city of Amsterdam’s website.
The Netherlands government defines sex work as legal when it is between two consenting adults and the sex worker has a license, whereas illegal sex work refers to forced prostitution, underage prostitution, and if the sex worker does not have a license.
Karin added that people who work for agencies usually go through an “intake interview” where they are asked about their motive for starting the profession and whether they have “a boyfriend that is trying to take your money.”
Karin has no plans to retire from sex work any time soon
Karin said she still tells people that she’s a nurse because of the stigma that surrounds sex work.
“You need to be careful about who you tell. I’m not on Facebook, I don’t want my picture or real name out there. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram,” she said.
There is a high police presence and a number of security cameras in the RLD, according to Karin, who says that the sex workers there are on friendly terms with the police. During our interview, a friend of Karin’s who she said was a former police officer arrived to check up on her, something that she said they do regularly.
It is the police presence, as well as the supportive community within the RLD, that Karin said makes her feel safe coming to work each day. And she said she plans to continue working in the industry for a long time.
There is a photo on the wall of the PIC of an unnamed woman in her eighties who was previously the oldest living sex worker in the Netherlands, according to Karin.
Despite the stigma she faces, Karin she said she could imagine following in the footsteps of the woman in the photo.
“Why not?” she said. “Well, I’d need to have some hair dye.”