Between Visibility and Invisibility: Sex Workers and Informal Services in Amsterdam

Maite Verhoeven & Barbra van Gestel

This study examines informal services within the sex industry in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, the Netherlands and how these affect the autonomy of sex workers. Data were obtained from the police files of twelve criminal investigations into human trafficking in Amsterdam between 2006 and 2010. The empirical data show that sex workers are intermeshed in a network of people who intercede with them and their work: pimps, bodyguards, errand boys, drivers, brothel owners, and accountants. While these informal players offer services to facilitate sex work, they simultaneously create a network of control around the sex workers and profit from the latters’ earnings. The existence of this informal network and its activities both supports sex workers, but also undermines the autonomy of self-employed sex workers in the studied cases.

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