How age matters. Exploring contemporary Dutch debates on age and sex work

Sara Vida Coumans; How Age Matters: Exploring contemporary Dutch debates on age and sex work, Working Paper
No. 588 ISS. 

Abstract

Social protection policies regarding sex work in The Netherlands use ‘age’ as an instrument to create binaries between adults and young people. The concept ‘chronological age’ assumes that age is a static feature and supports the process of categorization; however, age is a socially constructed phenomenon and has an embodied experience that is gendered. The objective of this research is to understand the role of ‘age’ in shaping social protection policies regarding sex work in The Netherlands, by analyzing how age is understood by those involved in the design and implementation of policies related to sex work in The Netherlands.

Full paper available here

Excerpt from the conclusion:

As explained earlier, Dutch sex work policy is not only concerned with sex work – the policy  mixes elements of sex work regulation with tackling human trafficking. Based on my analysis I  argue that, while protecting (potential) young victims of human trafficking, the disproportionate  control over young sex workers is seen by policy makers as an additional benefit. If the latter  claim were not the case, then specific measures would have been proposed to ensure that those young sex workers above the age of 18 could continue to exercise their agency, like anyone else above the age of 18.

This tendency to control young people’s sexuality and, in particular, that of young sex workers must be understood as a gendered control process. Within the general debates in The Netherlands there remains a tendency to position the sex worker as a female body and the client as a male body. Female sexuality is seen as something that needs to be controlled in order to remain pure, modest and passive (Davidson 2005: 26). The sex worker is viewed as the complete opposite of this ideal female representation; the ideal young, innocent, pure, female body must be kept away from this pollution as long as possible – which explains the desire to increase the legal minimum age from 18 to 21 (Douglas 1966). Evidently, this control mechanism is directed at the female sexuality – had it been directed at the male sexuality, there would have been much more discussion regarding the minimum age of the client.

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