AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands launched a campaign on Thursday to fight forced prostitution by urging clients to alert police if they suspect women are being coerced into selling themselves.
Each year about 3,500 women are trafficked to the Netherlands to work in brothels or illegal escort agencies even though the Dutch have thousands of self-employed prostitutes and some of the most liberal sex laws in the world, research shows.
Billboard posters will be plastered around the country’s red light districts, and flyers and magazine adverts will remind those who visit brothels or window-prostitutes that not all who work in the sex industry do so willingly.
“Have you seen the signals? Fear, bruises, no ‘pleasure’ in the job,” the posters ask, detailing an anonymous phone line where clients, who may be anxious to conceal the fact they visit prostitutes, can report their concerns.
The posters depict a striking silhouette of a prostitute in spike-heeled knee-high boots, but the contours of her body form another silhouette of a man holding a gun to a woman’s head.
The campaign to protect the forced prostitutes, who mainly come from eastern Europe with some from Asia, was launched by the Dutch justice ministry and the police.
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Last year Dutch police received more than 600 tip-offs about women who may have been forced into prostitution, and 400 women contacted the Dutch foundation against female trafficking.
“A typical scenario is a woman leaves her country with someone she trusts, expecting to work in a bar or nightclub. But the person turns out to be a trafficker who sells her on to pimps in the Netherlands,” a foundation spokeswoman said.
Often they end up trapped in private houses, forbidden to go out alone and regularly beaten and abused, she added.
Harrowing accounts of girls being smuggled into the Netherlands by abusive pimps have stoked public outcry in recent weeks but have done little to dent the huge number of visitors drawn to Dutch red light districts.
Although one local politician has called for the Amsterdam red light district to be closed down, tourist authorities admit the historic area is as much an attraction as the city’s galleries and coffee shops.