It is called the oldest profession in the world. Yet sex workers often fail to apply for a mortgage, take out insurance or open a bank account: “The prejudice is so counterproductive. Because people don’t want to be associated with sex workers.” The municipality of Tilburg believes that it should be treated as a normal profession. That is why a photo exhibition about sex work was opened in the town hall on Thursday.
On Wednesday afternoon, three board members of the Sounding Board Group Sexworks Foundation are a little nervous, but determined, ready on the sixth floor of Tilburg’s town hall. Chairman Wendy is a femdom mistress in everyday life. “Discharge coach,” she says laughing. Treasurer Kate works as an independent escort and secretary Boann is a sex care provider and sex coach for people with autism or dementia, for example.
They could not even get a bank account for their foundation, says Wendy: “We receive a subsidy from the municipality. Of course we want to put that money in a business account. But we have already been rejected at four banks because we are said to be too close to the sex industry.”
A spokesperson for the municipality adds: “And then it is about a foundation that wants to provide coaching, training and advice. Even then you will not get a bank account.”
“Why am I not just the same human being as you?”
The sex workers want their profession to be treated normally. But that means you have to watch your words. The question of what you can do for these people can count on a reprimand from Wendy. “I find ‘for these people’ stigmatizing. Why am I ‘these people’ and not just the same person as you?” asks Wendy in response. She doesn’t wait for the answer and looks at the journalist in a penetrating way: “We are all human beings.”
The negative image surrounding their profession has a major influence on sex workers. It means that Kate leads a double life: “I also work in an industry that absolutely does not suit this.”
She does not want to say where she works, but it is something in the healthcare sector: “So I absolutely do not want a picture of me being taken now. Because as soon as the public knows that I also do sex work, it will cost me my other business. So I always have to think about what I can and can’t say. It’s the reality for a lot of people in this industry and it really shouldn’t be necessary.”
“I have a deep bond with many clients.”
The superficial image of sex workers is also wrong, according to Boann: “I have a deep affection with many clients because I sometimes see them for years. It is often not even about sex, but about intimacy, such as cuddling and sharing life experiences. I teach people how to get into a relationship so they can start dating.”
The municipality of Tilburg would like to make sex work a normal profession. Joy de Weijer, Security specialist: “We are lobbying for The Hague and we are entering into discussions with banks. But it’s very slow. No one wants to burn their fingers on it. There are many conflicting interests. But there is a lot of support for this in the municipality of Tilburg.”
The opening of the photo exhibition was in the Tilburg council chamber, amid great interest. Many visitors had a red button pinned to their shirt to indicate that they do not want to be filmed and photographed. For mayor Weterings, it showed how big the taboo still is: “Still, even in the year 2023.”
Will Kate live to be able to be open about her work? “We still have a long way to go for that. This not only has to do with policy, but also with perception. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
The photo exhibition ‘Reimagining Sex Work’ can be seen from Friday for three weeks in the Tilburg town hall.