chapter  9
17 Pages

The fluidity of a ‘happy ending’

Chinese masseuses in the Netherlands
WithMarie-Louise Janssen

This chapter is an exploration of the contradiction between the judicial definition of human trafficking and the subjective labour experiences of Chinese masseuses in the Netherlands. On the basis of ethnographic fieldwork in massage parlours and interviews with masseuses and their clients, I analyse how we can discern what human trafficking is and what sex work is, through contextual understandings of how and why sexual services are being offered by this particular group. As the provision of sexual services within unlicensed massage parlours is officially illegal in the Netherlands these services are considered by the Dutch authorities to be one of the indicators of exploitation or human trafficking. For the masseuses, however, these services are an important source of income. The narratives of the women show how sexual acts are implicitly and explicitly negotiated and delineated (or not) from a ‘normal’ massage. The agency of many Chinese masseuses can best be understood as relating to a long-term migration project and social mobility. Although the choices of many women are constrained, agency is still present in the different ways in which their expectations and hopes are constructed and how the women relate to their desires by applying an instrumental approach to sexuality.