A forced farewell to de Baan: five sex workers share their thoughts

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As of July 1st, 2021, street prostitution will be prohibited in Utrecht. After 37 years, the designated zone for street-based work at the Europalaan will be closed. For years, sex workers at de Baan and social workers from HAP, the zone’s walk-in living room, have fought relentlessly against this closure. Nevertheless, the municipality of Utrecht is the municipality of Utrecht, and they drop their sex workers as hard as usual. There is no other location to replace the zone, and sex workers will not be compensated for their loss of income.

The zone started in the 80s to regulate the sex work of women using drugs in Utrecht. It also provides a workspace for trans and migrant sex workers based in Utrecht and sex workers based outside of Utrecht. To be allowed to work, sex workers need a permit from the municipality, which favors sex workers from Utrecht. For every permit granted to a worker living in Utrecht, two workers from outside Utrecht are allowed to work. The fewer the Utrecht sex workers, the fewer the permits issued to sex workers from outside Utrecht.

For many sex workers, the service road between Praxis and De Stadstuin has been their regular spot for years. Some moved there after the municipality had banned window-based sex work at 't Zandpad and the Hardebollenstraat. Others work there from time to time. We asked them what they are leaving behind and what they will miss the most about de Baan.

Lorena

I can start working whenever I want, with whoever I want. Since I don't have to pay for a window, I can also leave whenever I want. It's a nice place to earn my money. I get along with my colleagues, and the people from HAP are lovely. When something happens, they are always willing to help. Once a year, they organize a barbeque. There is food, and everyone will join. It's a real party! Working with clients is a way for me to practice my Dutch. That may sound strange, but when I came here, I didn't speak the language at all. By talking to customers, my vocabulary became a lot better. That was really handy.

I don't know yet what I am going to do after the closure. I'm trying not to think about it. I also don't understand why we must leave entirely. It's unfair. When we heard we had to close, that was already terrible news, and then Corona came on top of it. We thought we had a year and a half left, but eventually, we were open only for five more months. That promised time was stolen from us, and we are not getting this time back. The municipality won't even give us some extra time until the end of the year, for example. It is so incredibly unjust.

Patricia

I live nearby, so the zone is practically around the corner. I also worked at the Keileweg in Rotterdam, but that closed years ago. In Utrecht, you had to wait at least two months to get a permit. I tried working in The Hague and Amsterdam windows, but that is not for me; I get claustrophobic in such spaces. I'd rather be outside. I get along with the other sex workers, though I prefer to work alone. If a colleague comes to chat with me, I like it, but not for too long. Because I am here to make money. Some clients are very shy. They wouldn't dare stop at a group, but they would stop if you stand by yourself. When it is cold or rainy, I go and sit in my car. Then I'm actually still behind a window but my own window.

Marie-Louise

I already went through a lot of misery when I got my first boyfriend. It was puppy love. But within a few months, I found myself in a sex club. To be later forcefully moved to Antwerp. When I got out of that situation, I started working for myself at de Baan. On and off - you know. I even didn't work for ten years when I had a boyfriend. At some point at de Baan, I again had issues with pimps, but then a local police officer helped me a lot. He was a good one.

At de Baan are the most people who know me. I don't have a large circle of friends, I am not in contact with my family, but I've been in the zone for so long. Right now, I am seeing a social worker who I already know from rehab years ago and from de Baan. So not just my colleagues; also the people from HAP all feel a bit like family.

Tineke

I had a regular who told me he was going to leave his wife. I forbade it. She gave him three children. I only gave him sex for which he has to pay! So, I told him what he had to do to save his marriage. "Buy her some perfume, buy her some flowers. Not a bunch, just a single one". He didn't come back for a few months, but when he did, he brought a big bunch of flowers to thank me. They had fallen in love again. That was the last time I saw him, but I didn't mind. Yes, it was good to have him as a regular, but it does feel nice to help someone too.

I would be a hypocrite to say I don't work here for the money. I sent two boxes to my parents this month alone. I sent them cheese, dried sausages, long-lasting products. I used to send them money. But when I visited them, they had saved me 2000 euros. Ever since, I only send them food! Then at least, I am sure they are eating!

Bela

I also send money and long-lasting products to my mom. Also, to my sister, who has a child but no husband. This is only possible because I work here. With other work, I might be able to keep my head above the water, but I wouldn't send anything home anymore.

Before I got a permit in Utrecht, I worked in Nijmegen. And before that, I also worked here at the zone, but you had to watch out for the police. If you worked without a permit or without a residence permit, you would get fined. But, yeah, what are you going to do? You still need to eat. Now I have everything; a permit, a passport, a place to live. I'm going to miss the money and my clients. And they will miss me. Some even cry when we talk about the closure. This is a place where anything goes, where we make fantasies come true. Not all clients are good; some are even very difficult. But this is a good place to work; it is where I have my 'nice time'. I always felt that I was free here.