‘My butt is already numb’

Nathalie Koorn (18), a movement sciences student, is sitting cross-legged in a 1-by-2-metre cage. ‘My butt is already numb. This mattress is really thin.’ On this warm Wednesday she was locked up for twelve hours, as part of the Lock me upcampaign organised by Free a Girl, in order to inform people about forced child prostitution.
By Koen Marée / Photography by Traci White / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Throughout the country, similar cages will be erected at 24 locations this week. In Groningen, the campaign is taking place outside Jimmy’s in the Herestraat. ‘The idea was to show how children in countries like India and Brazil are locked up and forced into prostitution. Free a Girl is an organisation that saves children from prostitution. Fifty euros is enough for them to save a child’, Koorn explains.

Now she is experiencing for herself what it is like to be locked in a cage. ‘All these people looking at me is a bit weird. Some people just keep going because they have to be somewhere. Others take pictures. I don’t really care, but it’s a bit weird.’

Bowl of rice

She was encouraged to participate by her roommate Florien Boutsema, who is responsible for the campaign in Groningen. Koorn has her laptop with her: ‘But it’s not like I’ll be watching Netflix in my cage. I’m using it to post on Facebook and make people aware of the campaign. I’ve got minimal resources: I’m allowed to drink water and have just one bowl of rice. I hope many people drop by. After all, the weather is nice.’

Around 7:30 in the evening, Koorn is let out of her cage. Her face is red; the sun has been shining on her cage most of the day. ‘Sitting around all day is fairly boring. But I got a lot of positive reactions: people who showed up to talk to me or make a donation. Some people didn’t respond very nicely. People who’d walk by on the other side of the street and say just loudly enough for me to hear: “I could do that.” Not that anyone did, obviously.’

On Wednesday, passers-by could buy a bright pink padlock for five euros and leave a personalised message on it. Around one in the afternoon, there were six locks on Koorn’s cage, with messages ranging from ‘Freedom’ to ‘Mom’.


Her bowl of rice long gone, a pizza is waiting for Koorn when she finally exits her cage. It is a luxury the children forced to prostitute themselves do not have. ‘I hope we collect a lot of money. We have an online auction and people walking by can leave a donation in the collection box.’

By Thursday morning, the entire national campaign had collected 226,182 euros. Lock Me Up will run until Saturday. Other Groningen participants will be locked up over the next few days.


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