WODC: Relations between pimps and prostitutes complicates the investigation of human trafficking

The complex relationships between pimps and prostitutes complicate the criminal investigation of human trafficking. The relationship between a pimp and a prostitute can involve a love relationship, an extortion relationship and/or a business relationship. Love, dependence, loyalty, money, intimidation, threats, violence and sex may all intermix in these relationships. There is not always a case of brute physical violence for which clear criminal evidence may be found. Sometimes there is mainly a case of intimidation and psychological pressure, which complicates the furnishing of proof. The complex relationships between pimps and prostitutes often continue after arrests have been made. This complicates the process of hearing victims and witnesses.

Human trafficking is, in addition to an international offence, just as much a local phenomenon that is locally embedded. As a result of the local embedding of human trafficking it would be logical to exchange information with local partners, such as municipal districts and district police, during the investigation. There was intensive cooperation between the investigative team and the Centrum urban district during two investigations (carried out within the context of the Emergo project). This cooperation led to insight into the manner in which legal local entrepreneurs mentioned in the relevant files – for instance those involved in letting rooms, or in the catering industry – are involved in human trafficking practices. The urban district was able to successfully implement administrative action as a result of the exchange of information, so that these local facilitators no longer hold the necessary permits. This is written in the WODC report entitled Mensenhandel in de Amsterdamse prostitutiesector. Een onderzoek naar aard en opsporing van mensenhandel (Human trafficking in the Amsterdam prostitution industry. An investigation into the nature and investigation of human trafficking) that was published today.

Complex relations between pimps and prostitutes

The WODC investigated, on the basis of twelve large criminal files, the practice of human trafficking in the Amsterdam Red Light District in the period of 2005-2010. The twelve police files studied include 70 pimps (62 men and 8 women) and 76 victims (all women and active in window prostitution). The relationships between pimps and prostitutes are complex and can be subdivided into three types: love relationships, extortion relationships and business relationships. Within all relationship types, financial exploitation plays a major role, and in all the relationships the pimps use violence or the threat of violence against the prostitutes. In doing so, pimps attempt to continue the exploitative relationship and to generate as much income as possible. The violence of pimps plays a major and clear role in some criminal files, its role is smaller in other files, and prostitutes are kept working by means of manipulation, psychological pressure and threats. (The report speaks of suspects, not of offenders, because not all cases have been brought before the courts).

Local embedding

Criminal investigation of human trafficking is complicated precisely because of the complex relationship between pimps and prostitutes. The offence of human trafficking is often associated with international human trafficking and the assumption, in that connection, is that victims of human trafficking come from abroad, are brought to the Netherlands from other countries and do not have valid identity papers. However, a large number of the victims from the twelve investigations studied were born in the Netherlands. Victims that do come from abroad often come from Eastern Europe and are free to travel throughout Europe as EU citizens and have valid identity papers to travel to the Netherlands. Furthermore, some of the women who come from abroad were already active in prostitution in the Netherlands before they were included as victims in criminal cases. In other words, human trafficking is, in addition to an international offence, just as much a local phenomenon that is locally embedded. The activities of pimps and prostitutes are concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, streets and buildings in the Red Light District, where bars, room letting businesses and other local entrepreneurs are established. Prostitutes are visible in or near the street and have contact with people in the street for a large part of the day. This local embedding of human trafficking offers possibilities to deploy district police in the investigation.

Cooperation between investigative units and the Centrum urban district

The involvement of (legal) local businesses in human trafficking in the Red Light District was expressed in two criminal investigations that were closely followed by the WODC investigators and described in detail in the report. It concerns investigations whereby information could be exchanged, within the context of the Emergo covenant, between inter alia the police and judicial authorities, the municipality, and the Tax and Customs Administration. The close coordination and the exchange of information between the Centrum urban district and the police meant that the investigative team was able to properly chart the responses from suspects to administrative measures (where it concerns permits held by window operators) and was able to deploy investigative resources in an extremely well-targeted manner. The information thus collected contributed to the knowledge concerning the division of roles between suspects. The investigation was helped further along by information from the administrative field concerning registrations, permits and administrative ‘fronts’ or sham business ‘constructions’. And vice versa the urban district was able to use police information to substantiate administrative decisions to withdraw permits or to refuse to grant said permits. The investigations showed that the exchange of police information makes it possible to look at permit applications in a different way as administrative agency and to have more attention for the possibility of ‘fronts’, straw men and criminal activities.


M.A. Verhoeven, B. van Gestel & D. de Jong (2011) ‘Mensenhandel in de Amsterdamse prostitutiesector. Een onderzoek naar aard en opsporing van mensenhandel’. The Hague: Boom Juridische uitgevers. WODC series O&B no. 295.