Under the Direction of Yves Charpenel
Deputy General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of France
President of the Fondation Scelles
3rd Global Report
A growing menace
49, rue Héricart, 75015 Paris, France
Excerpt from the Dictionary of the French Academy
PROSTITUTION n. 13th century, meaning of "debauchery"; 18th century, the current meaning. From the Latin prostitutio, "prostitution, desecration."
The act of having sexual relations in exchange for payment; activity consisting in practicing regularly such relations. The law does not prohibit prostitution, only soliciting and procuring.
Entering into prostitution. A prostitution network. Clandestine, occasional prostitution.
ANCIENT MEANING. Sacred prostitution, practiced by the female servants of the goddesses of love or fertility in certain temples and for the profit of these goddesses, in some countries of the Middle East and of the Mediterranean. The Aphrodite temple, in Corinth, was a place where sacred prostitution was practiced. Fig. Degradation, defilement to which one consents by desire of goods, honors, etc. He refuses to prostitute his talent. The prostitution of the awareness.
« The proceeds from the sale of this book will be given directly
to the Fondation Scelles »
Translated from the original French Edition
Exploitation sexuelle – Une menace qui s’étend © Ed. Economica 2014
Translation copyright © Ed. ECONOMICA, 2014
All reproduction, translation, execution and adaptation rights are reserved for all countries
This publication is the result of work by a group of researchers from the Centre de Recherches Internationales et de Documentation sur l’Exploitation Sexuelle (CRIDES, Centre for International Research and Documentation on Sexual Exploitation) of Fondation Scelles and external collaborators.
We warmly thank them for all of their work.
Researchers and volunteers of Fondation Scelles and of CRIDES
Aurélie Bezault, Frédéric Boisard, Cécile Brotero Duprat, Dominique Charpenel, Yves Charpenel, Floriane Choplain, Fiona Connors, Maureen Curtius, Mary Delaroche Taieb, Barbara Giroud, Catherine Goldmann, AnnPôl Kassis, Marie Larotte, ThérŹse Lothe, Dania Mardini, Sonia Line Mbopda Ngoupeyou, Clara Méjan, Fanny Méjan, Sophie Menegon, Claudia Nannini, Roxane Noverraz, Anne Pascal, Cathie Paumier, Céline Pigot, Morgane Revel, GaĎlle Saoět, Anna Skipper, Clémentine Soulié, HélŹne Soulodre, Caroline Torres, Marie-Claire Verniengeal, Franćois Vignaud.
Lieutenant-colonel Eric Panloup, national coordinator of “Lutte contre la traite des źtres humains (The fight against human trafficking) of the Inter-Ministerial Mission for the Protection of Women against Violence and the Fight against Human Trafficking (MIPROF)
Myriam Quémener, Magistrate, Deputy State Counsel responsible for the Criminal Division at the French court of first instance in civil and criminal matters of Créteil
Emily St-Denny, Doctorate in Political Science, School of Arts and Humanities, at Nottingham Trent University
Marta TorrŹs Herrero Scelles, Lawyer
We also extend our gratitude to the Editing Committee composed of some members of the Board of Directors of the Fondation Scelles for their participation and pertinent remarks.
Our translation team:
Willy Andrews, AnnPôl Kassis, Greta Olivares, Thomas Peny-Coblentz, Marie Pichon, GaĎlle Saoět, Rachel Thimke, Deborah Thomas, Marie-Claire Verniengeal, Raymond Wright, Maxine Zeger.
Coordinator of the book:
Sandra Ayad, Head of the CRIDES
It is an honor for me to introduce this new report of the Fondation Scelles, because it addresses a subject close to my heart, and the social and ethical issues it implies are considerable.
To understand the necessity of the efforts of the Fondation Scelles, we must share this paradox: most often, the importance of the phenomenon of sexual exploitation is equal to the ignorance of its causes and its effects. This global scourge, whose criminal networks transcend borders and encompasses new victims every day, remains highly misunderstood.
Indeed there is still a lack of accurate data on the reality of sexual exploitation - and more generally on human trafficking - and our citizens are insufficiently aware. Our efforts must be underpinned by a detailed knowledge and analysis of the facts, and it can only be fully effective with the awareness of all. This book has the great merit of putting information at the service of action.
I am especially proud to introduce this report based on the two imperatives - act and inform - which have guided me throughout my professional life. In my fight for access to victims' rights, I have always been concerned with articulating knowledge and effectiveness, establishing concrete mechanisms and citizen awareness. My commitment is based on this conviction: the exploitation of other human beings should not be reduced to individual tragedies, but instead is everyone's business.
Act and inform are also the twin goals assigned by the Inter-ministerial Mission on the Protection of Women against Violence (MIPROF) and the fight against human trafficking, of which I have the honor to be the Secretary. The Minister responsible for Women's Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, has demonstrated a strong political will by mandating the Miprof to establish a three-year national plan of action against the human trafficking before the end of 2013.
This plan aims to make the fight against human trafficking public policy in its own right, focusing on improving knowledge and the need for cooperation at all levels of the problem. The approach should indeed be as comprehensive as possible, because these forms of modern slavery are multiple: procurement, domestic servitude, child trafficking, organ trafficking, forced begging, forced to commit crimes, etc. Faced with such criminal practices, one must both strengthen existing legislation and facilitate access to justice for victims. For it is not enough to have rights without the knowledge or ability to exercise them.
Every citizen can also be a witness to these human tragedies in their daily activities without knowing how to react. In the logic of prevention and accountability, our first action will be launching a national campaign of information and public awareness.
Such objectives are in perfect harmony with those that are presented in this book. This edition of the Fondation Scelles proves to be, like the previous, precious in more ways than one. It begins with a detailed picture of sixty-six countries, thus highlighting the international dimension of the phenomenon. To this necessary description is added a critical perspective in the form of a series of articles that put into perspective the major issues that have marked the year 2012.
These analyses - each written by a specialist in the matter - tell us about the tragic reality of the phenomenon of sexual exploitation, and also the many misrepresentations, of which there are many! Facing some stereotypes of the practices of procuring - which sometimes border on naivety - this report recalls some indisputable facts. Prostitution is not a matter of "consent," but exploitation. And it does not strike at random, as its victims are primarily those affected by poverty and insecurity. This observation also applies to other phenomena such as the trafficking of minors, for which the issues of early identification and support are, as the report shows, particularly crucial.
Fighting against human trafficking is to fight those who prey on social fragility as their business. This is a real battle against organized crime, but it also goes to the voluntary statement of principles and values. Denouncing and punishing these criminal acts is to show both firmness and humanity: humanity to the victims that must be protected; firmness to all those who enjoy and participate in this operation, that is to say both the exploiters and the customers.
Taking part in this struggle, one must remember that the body is not a commodity and that human dignity is not an empty word. It is advancing our civilization by not accepting any form of complacency in the face of what is a denial of our most basic rights. It is thus to be welcomed as it is in France, a country of humanism and human rights from which this report global emerged.
"Know, understand, fight," is the motto of the Fondation Scelles, and I cannot help but agree. Because ignorance is no longer an excuse and because political victims cannot do without real support from the public, it is necessary that human trafficking in all its forms is recognized as a problem of general interest.
Lately, many news events have, in various ways, been giving visibility and importance to these forms of exploitation hitherto ignored or trivialized. We must now go further to widespread awareness, giving our citizens more keys to understanding these issues.
The debate is launched, it should now be lit. This book, I am sure, will help contribute.
General Secretary of the “Mission interministérielle pour la protection des femmes contre les violences” – (MIPROF - Inter-ministerial mission for the protection of women against violence and for the fight against human trafficking)
The Fondation Scelles, for the third consecutive year, presents the Global Report on the evolution of sexual exploitation throughout the year. This report is an informational tool that aims to be as objective as possible.
We find human trafficking for sexual exploitation and, more generally, prostitution is growing rapidly. The number of victims, most often the most vulnerable members of our societies, is increasing, and they suffer the consequences. Trafficking and prostitution will not stop increasing, if we do not oppose it.
Indeed, the causes of poverty in the world are numerous: wars, population growth in certain countries, corruption, bad government directors, natural catastrophes etc. Criminal networks profit from the vulnerability of certain people to trick them and force them into prostitution. They seek to gain more and risk less. Prostitution is a global problem that accumulates the most money, after the sale of weapons and the drugs.
Some countries, who wanted to institutionalize and control prostitution, find their failure. Others have signed agreements to counter human trafficking. But, although these laws exist, there is a lack of political will to implement them. In contrast, countries such as Sweden, have established laws and a program of action that proved successful.
We note, for some time, the emergence of associations of "survivors," consisting of people who left prostitution. They dared not speak, because of threats on them. Now they tell us the unspeakable violence that they endured during their years of prostitution and they keep indelible marks.
We want to especially thank all those who contributed to this book, which is the result of a collaborative effort: the staff of the Fondation Scelles, many scholars motivated by the subject, as well as members of NGOs and grassroots organizations, which in all countries have provided information.
Philippe Scelles Yves Scelles
Honorary President Vice President
Presenting each year the state of the world plagued by the threat of sexual exploitation is a project born here three years ago. We provide a simple but disturbing analysis of the constant development of particularly violent yet strangely underestimated forms of enslavement.
How can we not be struck by the growing global crime reality, inspired by profit and ruthlessly exploiting all forms of vulnerability?
How can we not see the usual representatives of the world of prostitution, who are trying to trivialize or deny the unbearable features of this complex universe, multiple and evolving?
This striking contrast is reflected more than ever in this third Global Report.
Like its predecessors, this report aims both to present the evolution of the phenomenon in selected countries, where the sources and documentation allow the most objective analysis possible, and to illustrate the dominant themes of a real threat.
Certainly the sentiment, which can be derived from the sequence of facts, figures and trends of sexual exploitation today, is not likely to maintain the illusion of a peaceful and harmonious world.
You will however find reasons for hope and possible motivations for mobilization. The goal of the third Global Report is indeed to help open your eyes to a disturbing reality, to take a step back, and to reflect on the causes and effects, and to identify the conditions for improvement.
In this respect, the past year has been one of debates and perspectives, particularly in France where, finally, a public debate ensued on the four pillars of a policy that aims to reduce sexual exploitation:
- prevention first, with the start of the construction of a national action plan to fight against stereotypes and clichés that no longer, if they ever, have anything to do with the reality of prostitution as it really is, here and now;
- then the rehabilitation with the hope that these "invisible victims," who are the vast majority of prostitutes, become full citizens;
- the suppression of course, better proportioned criminal response to the severity of the crime;
- finally deterrence, with the ability to empower the client, who by creating demand, creates a range of increasingly diverse violations of basic human rights.
Thus, our report, the result of the relentless efforts of the Fondation Scelles for 20 years, hopefully responds to these two cardinal requirements: the provision for the greatest number of indisputable data of a phenomenon whose advances are often hidden, and the refusal to see this violence and exploitation operating with impunity.
The weapons we have are, more than ever, the ability to stay indignant when others are resigned, the desire to expand our partnerships and modes of expression, the conviction to abolish the prostitution system (a fight which is not a utopia but a coherent project) and, of course, rigorous analysis.
This year, an increasing number of countries have been addressed with the help of nearly 40 contributors, researchers, volunteers of the Fondation Scelles, and outside collaborators. We thank them, because they made this book a truly collective work, which like its predecessors, is called to serve as a reference both here and elsewhere.
President of the Fondation Scelles
Deputy General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of France
What's new in 2012?
A phenomenon that continues to develop
First situations do not change, but they get worse. The number of prostitutes increases and sexual exploitation is more vast than ever, as the global market welcomes all nationalities. For example: in South Africa, prostitutes come from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe etc.
As a result of the crisis in the global economy, students, housewives, and unemployed women have increasingly resorted to prostitution, occasionally or permanently, to supplement their monthly income and to try to escape a precarious situation. Today in Greece, for example, there is a considerable development in clandestine prostitution.
Youth at risk
An increasing number of young children, sometimes very young, are exposed to the risk of prostitution. The situations are all different: children offered to sex tourists (Thailand, Brazil...), child victims of trafficking for the purpose of the removal of organs but also prostitution, street children, children sold by their impoverished families...
It is not necessary, however, to go to Thailand or Madagascar to "consume" minors or young adults. In our western cities, boys and girls barter sex to consumers or are prostituted by procurers as their young "new look" called loverboys, who are seduced in order for procurers to be able to better exploit them. And the client can act with impunity or close to it, such as in 2012, the Swiss still allowed prostitution of young people of 16 years.
The death of a young student, victim of a particularly savage gang rape in India, the aggression of a Pakistani teenager who defended the right to education for girls, the rise of fundamentalist governments in the Maghreb in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, have all deeply affected the news in 2012. These events remind all that discrimination against women and sexual exploitation persist in parts of the world.
To a widespread awareness
Year after year, these realities upset more of our societies. Topics related to the sexual exploited were never discussed as much as they were in 2012; the release of a film, the appearance of a folder in a magazine, a news item or a sex scandal constituted in various ways an opportunity for discussion. The case of Carlton in Lille in France, the Berlusconi trial in Italy, the acquittal of 13 people accused of procuring in Argentina, the serial murders of prostitutes in Rwanda, among other examples, have sparked debates in the media and led to personal reflections on the realities of sexual exploitation.
Beyond the public alarm, states are beginning to address the problem. Governments conduct studies, legislators create special commission, and the media provokes debates, but this is a generalized statement. Today, a growing number of countries, who consider issues related to sexual exploitation, are aware of their severity and seek to provide adequate responses.
The debate around sexual exploitation: which approaches, what questions?
However, the debate is complex and there are many questions: what is prostitution? How does one define it? How does one reduce demand, abuse, violence, and exploitation? How does one face the stranglehold of crime? How does one improve the right to equal access to health care for all prostitutes? What legal regime should be adopted to combat it? Several lines of thought stand.
The media in question
The role played by the media (press, television, social networks etc.) is periodically challenged on two fronts. First, they are accused of promoting all forms of exploitation by the publication of advertisements of "sexual services." In some countries, these facts are openly denounced and actions are taken to counter them. Israel and Argentina, among others, have enacted laws banning such advertisements. Spain has also opened the debate. But these publications represent a financial goldmine, which is difficult to control. In 2010, the United States succeeded in closing the adult ads section of a classified ad website called Craigslist, because many of them involved minors. But Backpage has taken over and represented, in February 2012, 80% of the earnings of prostitution through the internet, including some involving minors.
Second, one accuses the media of trying to convey an attractive image of prostitution, made of glamor and fun. Denunciations of NGOs and feminist networks have difficulty reaching the general public. However, the image of women, and especially children in the media, and the sexualization of the body, have become topics of debate. In 2012, the report of the French Senator Chantal Jouanno clearly opened the discussion on this topic.
The regulationist failure
The Netherlands, Germany (which "celebrated " in 2012 the 10th anniversary of the legalization of prostitution), Australia, and New Zealand, countries that have chosen to regulate prostitution, are now a failure. The exploitation of women in an allegedly controlled prostitution environment, has been undermined by illegal and hidden prostitution invading the legal field. Prostitutes have virtually no access to social opportunities. The only real beneficiaries of the law are "directors" of institutions and procurers.
In these countries, a growing number of elected officials do not hesitate to denounce an exploitative world of violence and crime. At the local level, bordering areas to prostitution zones are pushing for a revision of the system. Some countries (the Netherlands and New Zealand) have been considering for several years changing their laws. There are rumors that the Netherlands and Germany are considering changing the minimum age of entry into prostitution to 21 (while civil majority is 18 in these countries), to better fight against child and young adult prostitution.
The client of the prostitution on the spot
Conversely, the reflection on the client of prostitution continued and deepened in 2012. The idea that the customer is at the origin of prostitution is increasingly recognized. Although the debate arises differently in different countries, client empowerment has emerged as the only path possible to improvement. Governments are discussing options, studying the Swedish model, conducting awareness campaigns, contemplating the possibility of penalizing the purchase of sexual services etc.
But evolution does not just happen. Sometimes change emerges first at the municipal level: in 2012, Chomutov, Czech Republic, and Limerick, Ireland, have anticipated a national policy and adopted bylaws on the client. Then discussions are established at national level. In 2012, Albania adopted a law criminalizing clients and Israel had a preliminary vote on a bill in this regard. Ireland and Scotland, ahead of the rest of the UK, discuss penalization options very seriously. Denmark also considered this possibility, but rejected it in 2012. In France, the Minister of Women's Rights wants to "abolish prostitution" and launched the debate on the client. Even countries that have legalized prostitution are studying these options. Thus, the Netherlands intends to sanction the clients of prostitutes, trafficked or undeclared. This is only a first step, but highly symbolic.
Brakes and lock towards changes
Government efforts to deal with these phenomena are evident but this does not mean that it leads to consistent and effective policies. Although the desire to change the law is present, projects stagnate year after year, are discussed and re-discussed, corrected and re-corrected without sufficient results. Where laws exist, enforcement is difficult: the number of convictions often remains low compared to reality of traffic and penalties given unrelated to the crime.
What prevents progress? The answers are varied, as shown in reading this book: corruption, which, in some countries, strikes judicial and police circles; the economic crisis has resulted in the reduction of budgets for social policies and, in particular, the fight against trafficking or support for victims; differences in legal regimes of other countries that make any changes difficult and block the action of public policy; the image of prostitution.
It is a real struggle that is played out today, and a fight that requires a strong commitment. In France, 55 associations of the collective Abolition 2012 lead the entire abolitionist struggle. Gathered in the premises of the National Assembly in November 2011, they presented their recommendations and called on parliamentarians to engage. A year later, it is in Europe that more than 200 associations gathered at Parliament in Brussels to launch a debate on the abolition of prostitution: "Together for a Europe Free from Prostitution".
Today, the European Parliament has a parliamentary committee to consider a policy change, and in France, at the time of writing, a bill was tabled in the National Assembly and should be discussed before the end of the year. Could 2013 be the year of change?
For the third consecutive year, the Fondation Scelles publishes its annual report on the state of sexual exploitation in the world.
The Journey since 2010
Like every year, this book is enriched with new analyses and reflections, new countries, and new themes. 24 countries from all continents and 9 themes at the heart of the news were in the 2010 edition. In 2011, we offered an overview of 54 countries and 10 themes. In this 2012 edition, 11 themes and 66 countries are systematically studied.
One could say that from one year to the next, nothing changes and 2012 is very similar to 2011. Of course, situations evolve slowly, yet we believe that the changes and upcoming trends reside in that slow evolution. And it is giving us a critical decryption and as comprehensive as possible news, every year, in which we will identify the realities of commercial sexual exploitation today and consider responses.
The “most” of 2012
We find here most of the 54 countries covered in the previous editions. The principle of this book is indeed to analyze the facts in a limited time frame as to to better understand the evolution in each country.
14 new countries are also entering our study. So that, for the first time, we can analyze in more detail each region of the world: North America, Latin America, the Maghreb countries, the Middle East, Asia etc. A particular emphasis was placed on several African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania. We also added several countries where the problem of sexual exploitation is both pertinent and misunderstood, such as Nepal and Burma.
The choice of topics follows the same logic. Some are recurring, because the facts they report never cease to evolve, "2012 Legal Responses" for example, takes stock of the judicial developments over the past year, while “Cybertrafficking and Cyberprocuring" provides an update of the "advance" of crime on the internet. Others were selected in response to strong current trends. Thus, "Sex and power" is marked by the joint work of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Silvio Berlusconi. Others, give valuable consideration to the current debate on the system of prostitution. For example, "Recurring arguments” challenges many stereotypes attached to prostitution.
Collection of facts
The items we produce are from a range of sources of various kinds, all confined to the year 2012: government reports, studies and findings from NGOs, reports of international organizations, academic research, information from our foreign correspondents, articles, polls, videos, stories etc.
Critical analysis of this data allows not only for the awareness of developments in each country during the past year, but also a grasp of the debates and controversies that have hit the headlines.
All sources used are available in the resource center of the Fondation Scelles, CRIDES (International Center for Research and Documentation on Sexual Exploitation). Since 1994, CRIDES monitors the daily press of a large part of the world and brings together new publications on topics related to sexual exploitation.
The team of researchers and editors
This study was carried out by:
- A team of international researchers (Norway, Spain, UK, Italy, USA etc.)
- Personalities from various studies (anthropology, sociology, political science, international relations, human rights, international law, fashion etc.)
- Field professionals (lawyers, judges, social workers, police officers, psychoanalysts etc.)
- A network of foreign correspondents who have nurtured and refined our analysis.
With this new edition our approach and our angle of attack expands, as we hope to deliver a broader vision than in previous years.
We are well aware that the analysis of 66 countries (out of 200 of the world) and a dozen themes can offer only fragmentary vision; but the goal is not so much to develop a comprehensive inventory, as to put the facts in a social, cultural and geopolitical context to better understand the phenomenon of sexual exploitation.
Data at the beginning of each text comes from the following sources:
The Population figures for 2012 come from the 2013 Report on Human Development of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP): http://hdrstats.undp.org/fr/indicateurs/306.html
The figures for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in 2012 (in dollars) come from of the World Bank: http://donnees.banquemondiale.org/indicateur/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD
The figures on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2012 come from the 2013 Report on Human Development (pages 156-159) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP): http://www.undp.org/content/undp/fr/home/librarypage/hdr/human-development-report-2013/
Political regimes in different countries of the world from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/pays-zones-geo/
The figures for Gender Inequality Index (GII) in 2012 come from the 2013 Report on Human Development (pages 168-171) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) http://www.undp.org/content/undp/fr/home/librarypage/hdr/human-development-report-2013/
These analyses have the sole mission to put the national studies in an encrypted environment, to get an idea of the proportion of the population affected by the subject before us: the commercial sexual exploitation.
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In the press, in parliament or in everyday life, opposing philosophical concepts are regularly used to defend and justify the system of prostitution. Who has never heard about the distinction between the “good” and the “bad” prostitute, the one who chose to work in the domain and the one who was forced into it, the one who came from abroad as a victim of human trafficking and the one who was born in the country and works according to her own will?
The majority of these ideas appear evident, as long as people have not studied prostitution. Put forward as absolute truths immune from criticism, they reinforce an image of prostitution supported by those who benefit from the activity. An analysis of these concepts allows us to recognize if their counterarguments are pertinent or not; beyond that, it allows us to see whether or not these arguments or their counterarguments are true.
The status of the human being
Supporting the idea that sexuality, and by extension the human body, are neither rentable nor sellable is a moral position frequently condemned as abolitionist. But what makes “moral” reproachable? Human beings are undoubtedly gifted with reason, but also with emotions. Man is a social animal, but also a moral animal. All cultural constructions that human beings have put in place to build their universes are the fruits of this natural combination. It is therefore a moral position to want to keep the intimacy of the human body out of the market place. But it is also a moral position, strongly influenced by free market economics, to postulate that all goods should be sellable, including the human body.
The desire to make prostitution an official profession is part of this moral argument. By making the sale of sex legal, this system allows consumers to peacefully acquire immediate sexual satisfaction detached from obligation. Clients reduce prostitutes to the state of objects that they can use like any other good. Their reasoning is simple: if someone works as a prostitute, they want to do so. All other explanations – social determinism, vulnerability, economic contingencies, premature sexual exposure, and personal elements leading to prostitution – are not brought up. In order to get the most out of the client’s moral indifference, those who are pro-prostitution, in so far as they believe everything is purchasable, should not condemn organized crime networks nor child prostitution. Under their logic, these activities represent nothing more than another sale supported by the free market. In this line of reason, the idea of consent is not pertinent: would we ask a chair whether or not it accepts to be sold, so that it can be sat on?
If these individuals do not follow this line of reasoning to the end, by introducing the concept of “free choice” in their argument, it is precisely because they are well aware that the human body cannot be treated as a vulgar object. As their own justification shows, not everything is for sale, even though this idea might offend those who disagree.
As Aimé Césaire notes, it is much more difficult to be free than to be a slave. To accept slavery voluntarily allows us to access a substitute for liberty in so far as we can be satisfied by a limited identity without needing to dig further.
Freedom and Determinism
The claim that human trafficking must be condemned is one that generates consensus, at least in appearance. Prostitution that results from trafficking is logically presented as forced. Against this type of prostitution, we find that which is claimed to be “free,” chosen by the individual him/herself.
The freedom in question is not economic or political in nature. It is the freedom of the individual actor, as the master of his or her life, who possesses free will.This freedom, however, is challenged by the principal of causality, by virtue of which every event is determined by a multiplicity of prior events. No one enjoys hearing that, in essence, they are not free. The statement is taken as an infringement on what it means to be a human being. Yet studying the human psyche reveals the production of numerous sensations and emotions that remain incomprehensible to human beings in their daily lives. Social sciences explain that choices, tastes, and lifestyle choices of individuals are largely determined by an array of given characteristics. This argument around freedom of choice, as a result, appears entirely impertinent, in so far as it is affirmed without prior research into heavily complex details.
In the case of prostitution, for numerous people, a prostitute’s consent legitimizes and authorizes the action of the client. In this way, someone who is opposed to punishing the client sums up his/her belief with one simple sentence: “There surely exists another type of prostitution […]: a prostitution that can be qualified as ‘free’ since it claims itself as such.” (Libération, September 6th, 2012).
From that point forward, we can ask ourselves, following the example of SylvianeAgacinski, “What does ‘consent’ mean when it is formed through a mixture of need, unemployment, heavy demand of clientele, the corrosive power of money, and the lack of self-esteem?” (Le Nouvel Observateur, September 6th, 2012).
Just as confessions obtained under duress are inadmissible in court, it should be clear that consent to sell one’s body, under an immense economic, psychological and physical vulnerability, should be unacceptable.
The inaccuracy of analyzing prostitution in comparison to factory work
From the above distinction, those who are pro-prostitution continue to put forward the same critique: why aim to prohibit prostitution when it’s an activity that, according to them, gives more freedom than factory work?
When these arguments are read, another question immediately demands attention: if working conditions are truly more favorable in prostitution than in factory work, why do people continue to choose the factory over street sex?
Besides the fact that this critique is put forward without any form of argumentative support, it is a critique that can be quickly toppled by serious analysis. The amalgam between factory work and prostitution distorts the reality of what selling the human body for sex truly is. At first glance, factory work appears alienating, whereas prostitution appears to be an activity founded on sexual freedom (which it is not). But factory work only demands the individual’s physical capacity to produce an object. Prostitution uses the physical intimacy of an individual, and exploits sexuality, which belongs in the private sphere. If human culture places sexuality beside intimacy, it is not by chance. Reducing the act of sex to the movement of flesh is to deny what is at play in interpersonal relations, human exchange, emotional, spiritual and body language. It is the same as denying the humanity of the individual. Objectifying humans and sexual relations can result in serious and irreversible psychological damages. For this reason, a large number of prostitutes show physical and psychiatric symptoms equivalent to those suffered from soldiers of war. These symptoms include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, notably due to the numerous unwanted sexual relations and the violence involved.
Liberalism and consumption
One of the arguments most frequently used in favor of making prostitution an official profession is that it allows the full individual liberty to all to decide how to use his or her body. The defenders of prostitution recycle the language and arguments used by feminists in previous decades to support their proposition. According to their arguments, deciding how to use one’s body implies the power to exploit it, to sell it, to use it in any way desired.
Using language and arguments used for women’s rights allows these activists to give their cause veiled legitimacy, giving their audience the impression that they are fighting for “just” reasons.
This statement goes forward without difficulty, no matter who the interlocutor may be. Yet these two movements which appear to share a common element are, in reality, fully contradictory. Women fought so that they could no longer be reduced to a piece of flesh, valued only for sex and reproduction. Those who are pro-prostitution claim that they are continuing the same fight, advocating for total freedom for a woman to fully decide what she does with her body. But this decision, instead of giving a woman total control, subdues her into a totalitarian relationship that, more often than not, leads to her body’s destruction. In reality, the pro-prostitution is the antithesis of feminism, and fully reduces women back to the role of sexual object, under the pretext that, as a “voluntary” act, prostitution will give them freedom. The limits of this line of reason, and its blatant absurdity, deserve no further discussion.
“We know what’s good for you better than you do”
To discuss, critique, and change a situation, is it necessary to have lived it first? Many of those who are pro-prostitution argue that it is inacceptable for individuals who have neither sold nor bought sex to discuss or critique the activity.
As Marcel Crahay rightly notes in the context of the Allegory of the Cave, “Empiricism has the force of evidence or, more precisely, the force of appearances”.
In the same way that previous generations believed the world to be flat, because their own perception was incapable of imagining a spherical world under their feet, we quickly believe that we can speak of something only through direct experience. By seeing, hearing, or living an event, we believe that we have an intimate knowledge, an inescapable truth, about whatever subject is at hand.
But this position, while pertinent in many cases, lacks the objectivity necessary to analyze serious questions such as prostitution and sexual exploitation. All knowledge acquired by direct contact renders the experience relative, according to its context, frequency, and the nature of the experience itself.
If those are prostitutes believe, in the same manner, that it is inappropriate or impossible to fully discuss prostitution without having experienced it directly, this feeling may be derived from the physical, psychological trauma they harbor, and which they consider incomprehensible for anyone who has not lived it.
“I don’t know how to be human – this is not a philosophical statement, it’s not to gain sympathy of pity – I say this because the sex industry has made me subhuman, a simple product to be consumed. I can imitate human beings, and find ways to integrate myself into their lives, but below my surface there is only emptiness”, declared Rebecca Mott, a former prostitute.
The position of someone who helps
It is from statements such as these that those who can only listen develop empathy for their fellow human being, feel a shared pain from the experience, and decide to help in his or her liberation. In no way is this process defined by an uncontrolled fall into compassion, nor does it stem from considering the other as a simple victim who needs to be saved. Instead, the process of empathy begins with the capacity to see the other as a person, to share experiences with him or her, and to do whatever possible to support his or her personal decisions.
Contrary to what has been said, such a development is not the result of paternalistic thinking, but humanist determination. In the masses, those who worry about prostitutes are rare. When they do, it is not by chance. These are the emotionally empathic individuals who aim to better life conditions for a certain section of the population. What better describes this work than humanism?
If, however, the recommendation of certain prostitutes to let them work “without wanting to save them” were respected, each organization that works day and night, that works to present the problems of sex slavery on the human, medical, and public levels, would have to disappear. Even though the goal of these organizations is to help those who have suffered from prostitution, it is important to not criticize or slander those who refuse their help, regardless of their political positions on the subject.
Considering that feminism is, above all, a humanism, if those aligned with the movement ignore the problem of prostitution completely, they have failed to uphold their own ideologies. At its origin, feminism is not a movement that advocates for a world dominated by women. It fights for the construction of a more just and equal society, in which the right of each individual to participate is not refused based on gender identity, social origins, or sexual orientation.
Not handling the issue of prostitution – an issue that encompasses an entire category of individuals living in largely difficult conditions – would be full renunciation of the feminist project and a failure to fight for humanist ideals.
In conclusion: raise a hue against education!
The arguments above are among the most common that are given in support of prostitution. They are understandable and acceptable for all, regardless of his or her education level. They make sense in the world that we have learned to perceive and are imbued with free market values and the values of an individualistic consumer society that exists in excess.
Each and every one of us considers him or herself to be free. Sociological discourses, aiming to deconstruct this notion, remain a minority and are badly perceived.
It is in this context that prostitution is immediately thought of as a subject about which anyone can express an opinion. If we believe the argument that each of us is free to choose the life we desire, then prostitutes are to blame for their position in this world. If these women or men sell their body for money, it has to be the result of their free choice. This short-cut argument allows people to deny any responsibility in the situation, and place all blame on the shoulders of those who are unable to meaningfully change their livelihood. There is no need whatsoever to feel compassion for “those people,” accused of enjoying life in debauchery.
Even worse, it is frequently said that prostitution is the life route taken by the lazy. Renting out the body for a price is claimed to be easy, allowing them to never have to “truly” work, and gives them a source of quick, easy income. Given the evidence, those who maintain this position have never taken the time to study the question, as explored by John J. Potterat. Focusing on the living conditions of sex workers, this study was conducted over 32 years alongside 1,969 prostitutes. Among many conclusions, it was found that prostitutes have a risk of murder that is 18 times higher than the average population, with an average life expectancy of 34 years old.
It is, above all, information and education that will make it possible to hear different arguments and lines of reasoning centered on prostitution. Education will allow the public to see the brutal reality of prostitution that is opposite of the glamorous fantasy that often comes to mind. Instead of succumbing to the temptations of pro-prostitution movements and easy ideas, which speak only to keep their voice in public discourse, a critical and analytical perspective must be kept in tact. In this way, it is our obligation to fully challenge and critique our own assumptions about prostitution.
- Agacinski S., « Prostitution : oui, nous devons sanctionner les consommateurs! », Le Nouvel Observateur, September 6th, 2012.
- Bourdieu P., La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Les Editions de Minuit, 1979.
- Bousquet D. (President), Geoffroy G. (Rapporteur), Rapport d’information par la Commission des lois constitutionnelles, de la législation et de l’administration générale de la République, en conclusion des travaux d’une mission d’information sur la prostitution en France, French National Assembly, n.3334, April 13th, 2011.
- Chaleil M., Prostitution, Le désir mystifié, L’Aventurine Ed., Paris, 2002.
- Crahay M., « Chapitre 1 - Les présupposés psychologiques des précurseurs », in : Psychologie de l’éducation, PUF Ed., Paris, 1999.
- CRIDES/Fondation Scelles, Revue de l’actualité internationale de la prostitution, 2012.
- Moglia M., « Prostitution : pénalisation des clients... et puis quoi encore? », Libération, July 16th, 2012.
- Mott R., « Prostitution – J’ai le cŌur qui désespŹre », Sisyphe, September 12th, 2012.
- Potterat J. J., Brewer D.D., Muth S.Q., Rothenberg R.B., Woodhouse D.E., Muth J.B., Stites H.K., Brody S., « Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women », American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 159, Issue 8, 2003.
A selection of evidences by prostitution victims noted down by non-profit volunteers.
Seemingly insignificant words are commonly employed to express what is unbearable. Very few prostitutes in touch with non-profit organizations, would plainly admit: “I am/ I was a prostitute”. They hide behind expressions as to keep aside the reality of their lives. Most often they’ll say “I’m working in the streets, I left the streets, I fear having to go back to the streets”. Considering that words can cure, words can also be harmful and not only the words of others. Intolerable situations need embellishment in order to be accepted. This way, stories are built up to hide one's truth: love stories, abduction stories, sex and power stories.
“Just a rough time!”
He was twenty then, from a middle-class family, graduated high school and got a job, but went through a number of family problems and break ups. Friends offered him stuff stronger than shit, “just try it and you’ll feel high”. It was good, he felt much better. Then he lost his job and it all became unbearable: he had to increase his dose, and was faced with the question of "how to pay for the stuff?” “Nothing to worry about”, a guy said to him: "just go and suck the bourgeois” in one of the side-alleys by Avenue Foch. “This is just a rough time,” he told himself, but it went from bad to worse. Although somewhat physically weak, he was mentally strong and he managed to get over it all, as family members and friends stayed by him. Thanks to their love and care, he successfully handled, the difficult way out of addiction, easy money and detoxification altogether. He started a new life but deep down he still carries the aftermath of what he went through.
“I can stop when I want to”
She is 16, living in Paris and attending high school. She could well be living in any other main town. She is “far smarter than the others: she’ll stop once she’s paid for her designer bag, luxury shoes and that dress she’s been dreaming about.” Everything is under control: she’ll stop when she decides to. That's also what everyone says when they start to smoke, drink or use drugs. Those who became addicted thought the same way, and it all soon became stronger than their will.
“Just to help pay my studies”
She couldn’t do it any longer: with precarious part-time jobs, classes, revisions, studying at home, and her parents living too far away to be able to help her. So, she accepted when, one day, a rather pleasant man, a little more insistent than the others, offered her money for a night with him. And, well “it was fun!”: feeling just like a film star. And, you know “it wasn’t serious, just for one time” to painlessly finish the month. She carried on: “that seemed easier than to run endlessly after one precarious job after the other”. She’ll put a stop to it all when she finishes her exam, “for sure!”. Well now, what will she choose to do with her diploma? Will she keep struggling to find a long- term, stable, well-paid job?
“It’s fun! Let’s enjoy it”
She is 14. The other girls are calling her “a whore”? They just envy her because “in her school she is the star”. She’s the strongest, the best and the sexiest. The proof ? Her boyfriend is making “a lot of a dough because as all of his guys want to sleep with her. It’s fun, isn’t it?" Why hasn’t she told her family? “They’re just losers and wouldn’t understand”.
“He’s in love with me”
She is living in Rio, coming from a favela, yet she’s quite happy to have a regular job. Thanks to her man, she has a steady income: he’s selecting clients for her. She’s working hard but luckily her clients aren’t too violent with her: her man keeps an eye on them and is protecting her. Of course, he throws tantrums sometimes, he hits her, but one has to understand that “he’s jalous”. He told her he loves her and it just upsets him to see all of these guys amusing themselves with her. He’d rather she did something else “but there’s no job! And one has to live after all.”And for the time being that’s all she could find, but when they have put enough money aside, things will surely improve.
“I got ‘em”
He lives in Sao Paulo and he is 13. He left his family who abused him, and for now he feels secure among his gang. He walks the streets for money. He is quite smart: he can “squeeze money- a few reales- out of these European or American tourists”, who come to taste Brazilian exoticism in all of its forms. And if everything goes well, within a few years he will “run his own gang, deal or even drive a girls’ net” work. In Brazil, there is an estimated half a million child prostitutes.
“I'm getting money for my Mum”
She'll never have a chance to get out of it all. She lives in Guatemala City. She is ten, and her mother is hardly twice her age; but- what with drugs and alcohol- she is so worn out that she looks far older. She is sick and since she cannot prostitute herself any longer, she stays at home, a slum, only furnished with a mattress, which no one would want for their dog. When other children go to school, she leaves to prostitute herself. "I'm getting money for my Mum", she told ESPPER, an NGO, which helps destitute locals. She feels proud: she is a big girl now and she's been helping her family for quite a while. She's a nice little girl and a very gentle one too: all day long she'll obediently give in to all the demands of enthusiastic men eager for young flesh. With some luck, she won’t become a mother before she’s fifteen. And with even more luck she’ll avoid AIDS. And if she’s very lucky she may reach the age of 50, which might not be worth it considering the hardships of life. Her only hope? That one of the few NGOs, tolerated by the procurers’ networks will take care of her future children. And indeed, various NGOs, such as Les Trois Quarts du Monde (TQM), aim at saving young prostituted girls’ children and preparing a better future for them.
In order to try to identify the client's personality - to the extent that it would be possible to reduce their multiplicity into a single individual standard - the study of the text written by a customer, whose nickname is "Un mec !" seems to be necessary, as it combines in itself the essence of clichés relating to prostitution.
The customer remains the great unknown of the prostitution sphere. The client is nevertheless one of the pillars of the system that remains nine times out of ten ignored. As already noted by the Fondation Scelles in 2004, "Must we not see the expression of a ‘collective unconscious’ that refuses to carry an important part of the responsibilities of the ‘consumer’ at the profit of those who organize the market?" The customer has been taken into account in the French criminal law in 2002.
The figure of this fleeing character has been studied since the 1980s in Sweden, notably by Sven Axel Mansson. In France, it was not until the 2000s that the customer actually gained interest, including the works of Claudine Legardinier & Bouamama Saēd, Max Chaleil, or also the report of the French National Assembly No. 3334 on prostitution in France.
The ratio of available women
The customer, "Un mec !” explains his first experience with an escort girl, when he was 25 years old, living in London. Previously, he explained that he was raised by his mother, "an open-minded, feminist, who considered "whore" as the worst insult to a woman." He then stated that he was fully aware of the issues of prostitution, but still ignored what he calls his "principles" to request an escort girl.
“Un mec !” made his choice on the Internet, noting how this process is very similar to that of buying an everyday object, "like choosing a new TV on Amazon." He first notes the easiness of the process and the wide range available. For every woman, there is a description that he qualified as “technical”: photos, measurements, comments from previous guests, age, languages spoken, favorite drinks, sexual practices. First observation from this description: no descriptive categories shocked him, yet an obvious bias appeared upon reading: the only category that really concerned the individual prostitute herself, as an individual, lay in her taste in beverage. The rest was only the pragmatic description of the characteristics of the object that the client considered buying.
And more... Alcohol is synonymous with relaxing, with a festive atmosphere, allowing one to let go, is commonly used by a number of prostitutes in order to have enough courage to endure their activity. The champagne, which is ultimately chosen, is known as an elegant drink of sophistication and of seduction. It also has the reputation of being the alcohol with the most immediate effect. This choice is therefore perhaps not so innocent: it allows you to immediately register the client in a luxurious world of fantasy, and place the individual prostitute in a state of slight intoxication, in order to facilitate the exercise of this difficult activity.
He finally chose a Russian model (not fearing clichés) who prostitutes at night (on average $2,732 USD for the night) in her own apartment or in that of the client. Once the order was placed, the author translated, within his text, the tension that resides between the anxiety and the excitement of the client (a challenge to the education he received from his mother, having a feeling of doing something forbidden and reprehensible, to being the "bad boy" of rap videos) and the bad conscience that the act generates. And this is without a doubt the cocktail that excites him.
Infinite sexual uses of women
The woman who opened the door was described as the antithesis of the archetypal street prostitute: he described her as "graceful, charming, far from being vulgar, and smiling."
"Even though we both knew what I was doing there, the experience, as short as it was, was deeper than just the sex that would follow." In fact, it is precisely because they both knew why they were there that the experience was "deep." Because of his bad conscience, he feels compelled (once past the sexual act) to be interested in her, and not to reduce her to a mere sexual objects and, especially, by extension, to not be seen as a banal and sordid prostitute client.
The value is much greater than a single appointment especially for the women in front of him, to whom this is a “business”. She is full of good will, and obligated to seduce the client so that she will be noted well on forums, which will guarantee more clients, and eventually returning clients.
It is for these reasons that this experience seems to "Un mec !" to be much deeper than a simple meeting between two individuals, especially as he described it as "close to a one-night stand, less hope for love and more openness [he has nothing to prove, she is a prostitute, she is there to satisfy his every desire]."
"Un mec !" named the following paragraph: "The customer is king". Herein lies the major difference for him with his love of past experiences. The pleasure of the customer is first. He described it as a "significant attraction for male sexuality." It is the same for the first attraction: women always available as an object/place of performance of male fantasies. It comes down to the idea that cradles human civilization that women are primarily there to satisfy the desire of men, and are thought of as to be always available.
Like the feelings of this client, one can cite two other “consumers” in a documentary film by Hubert Dubois: "The prostitute is always available and then there is the choice!" said the taxi driver. "This is what I like at Bois de Boulogne, I can take my pick", agrees his companion. They admit coming here between six and ten hours per week, driving or not, to consider the dozens of prostitute(s), transvestites and transsexuals from around the world, before deciding. "The pleasure of voyeurism is huge" says the friend, who adds: "Once we made the circuit, one sleeps well".
The feeling of misguided injustice
According to "Un mec !", in a couple, one always sexually gives more than the other, thus justifying the existence of prostitution. What interpersonal relationship can be described as purely equitable in life? He puts this remark in connection with the prostitute that does everything for him, gives herself entirely in brief, incarnates “The Woman”. This is quite contradictory as their "relationship" is itself purely unequal.
In addition, "Un mec !" says the prostitute meets each of his requests with a smile, which he himself notes is "probably commercial, but nevertheless convincing." He wants to believe in the delight of his partner in order to remove his guilt.
He also notes that she is a sexual expert, unlike many other women of his past experiences. He compares her to "a craftsman who has perfected his mastery over time," associating prostitution with the nobility that other artisan jobs have, and with the nostalgia involving consuming unique and non-manufactured products, but full with knowledge acquired through the experience of the artist. Can one see here a certain nostalgia for the days of brothels, where women were thought of as "professionals" of the sexual act, refining their practice over time and customers?
"Un mec !" then launched into a diatribe against the lack of knowledge women have about male pleasure (which he attributes to male machismo and the weight of religious institutions), adding that ultimately, he himself, knows little about female pleasure. He even added that "many women grow up without the pleasure of masturbation, the idea that sex is dirty.”
This man, however, said he frequented many women - which he described as far from being "closed-minded Puritan" - projects his own illusions about the fairer sex. According to the study "Contexte de la sexualité en France (CSF)” conducted by INSERM and INED in 2006, "more than 90% of men say they have practiced masturbation, against only 60% of women." More than one in two women already seems a fairly large number of individuals, especially since one can assume that this figure is an underestimate, since many taboos are still very much alive regarding female sexuality. Presumably this gap is, in reality, much less.
Perhaps "Un mec !" does not know female sexuality well because it does not exist in the representations: sexuality as one knows it is always androcentric. In pornography, for example, the sexuality presented is that of men, by men and shown with reference to this phallocentric impregnation widely accepted in all sexual representations. Similarly, all sex shown or described follows a standard course. They inevitably end when the man ejaculates. Regardless of whether the woman took pleasure or not.
This overall lack of knowledge of female sexuality remains valid for men but also for women themselves, as well as in a number of specialists. In this respect, one can include the famous confession of the misunderstanding of Freud comparing the great unknown female sexuality to a "dark continent."
After the act, “Un mec !” fancied himself with the prostitute that he solicited, and understood that she came to see him to exercise this activity by economic restraint. He did not make any comments about this subject, as if the fact of prostituting oneself to live was an excuse per se, and not an exploitation. “Of Russian origin, she studied economics in college, and after a number of boring and underpaid jobs, she threw herself (at her own will, according to her) into prostitution.”
It is interesting that the famous daytime activity of modeling disappeared from the presentation that the young girl made of herself when he selected her on the internet, as she was presented as exercising this occupation during the day and only prostitutes at night.
When they come to address the issue of their other clients, it maintains the fantasy of cleverly chosen prostitution. "She finds most customers pleasant, seeking a more erotic encounter than sexual slavery. She herself finds a certain satisfaction in being able to offer another person a moment of relaxation and fun." Indeed, to say the opposite to one of her customers would not be very sellable. These statements involve maintaining the fantasy of the woman who prostitutes because she "loves it" and therefore clears the customer of any scruple damaging to the trade.
Finally, only at the end of the penultimate paragraph, "Un mec !” announces that it was impossible to know if her story is true and if she was really independent. “There is the traditional boundary between forced prostitution and “free” prostitution. Having sex with a prostitute from a network, this is wrong, this is exploitation, but with "free" prostitute is tolerable, because she does it voluntarily.” It is curious that for the vast majority of people, the fact that an individual is subjected to economic duress is not thought of as affecting the freedom of the individual. Regardless of this constraint, this distinction does not come into play again to stop the feeling of guilt, whereas physical constraint was considered without further ado.
This dichotomy refers to the amalgam frequently made between prostitution and other activities, with the common characteristic of being livelihoods. However, prostitution is not comparable to a business, as alienating as it is, for the simple reason that no other job uses the physical intimacy of the individual, which is the private sphere.
Intellectual shortcuts propagating and protecting misconceptions
“Un mec !” then announced that he hoped for a legal framework for prostitutes that would allow them to escape networks: “In the end, I prefer the system in force in Germany or the Netherlands, leaving each one to make sense of things.” Despite his “feminist opinion,” he still demonstrated that he was not interested in the question of prostitution, in any case not otherwise than as a consumer. It is a misconception, unfortunately widespread, to believe that legalization and supervision of prostitution leads to improved quality of life for prostitutes. Quite the contrary. The different experiences of legalization have increased the number of prostitutes, but also networks of exploitation and violence. Thus, as Claudine Legardinier shows in her latest book: "...the development of a legal sector has had the initial effect of boosting the illegal sector. A Dutch report from REIC showed that in 2010 only 17% of 2,600 prostitution ads in newspapers and on the internet came from the legal sector. Clearly, 83% came from the illegal sector, where there is no exercised control. The bonus is clearly for criminals, and the penalty is for prostitutes. Not only did legalization lead to an explosion of prostitution and trafficking, but even the authorities admit that traffickers are able to invest in the legal sector. In 2010, the head of the German police reported the increase of trafficking for prostitution in the country - 11% in one year, 70% over 5 years - especially that of women of Eastern Europe East and Africa. In Switzerland, authorities are moved by the increasing presence of Hungarian prostitutes, young or very young, rising Roma and Romanian networks and the rise of Italian and Balkan networks. Everywhere the police and authorities denounce attractive markets for organized crime."
After this naēve and erroneous assertion, “Un mec !” revised his words: “On the other hand, I am not completely at ease with the idea that paying for a prostitute is a normal act.” His guilty conscience resurfaced. Nonetheless, this guilt did not last very long: in the very next sentence, he did not hesitate to continue describing his experience.
Another justification used by the client is to report the case of a friend, an escort boy, who told him that his customers (premium) not only wanted him as a sexual object, but "something special," as if that was enough to justify the existence of this activity. Since the words of his friend are absolutely not relativized, or established in context, the experience of a single individual (which we know nothing about) is not sufficient to justify the existence of all those who engage in this activity.
"In the end, I find it easy to look at prostitution from a pious camp, but it would be more appropriate to look beyond clichés and scandals that sustain the tabloids. Before anything else, I would like for one to place respect for the prostitute at the center of the debate, whether one defends or vilifies the escorts."
The article of this man was specifically chosen because it carries in itself a significant amount of clichés about prostitution. Indeed, like many, he claimed to speak on behalf of the welfare of prostitutes while having attended one, once. Experience (of which he considers himself lacking) has turned him around, and obviously he has never addressed the issue.
What is really easy, is to not be in the camp of the pious, but the ignorant.
The egocentric nature of the typical client
In this article, in addition to expressions that speak of himself, his feelings, his experience, and his ideas, "Un mec !" used almost 70 times 81 lines of personal pronouns returning directly to his own person, against 24 times that refer to the prostitute.
Here, the major lexical field is predominantly that of egocentrism; the whole experience actually rotating around him: "Once my choice was made, as a Siddharta curious to get to know, I made an appointment for the same evening, shared ethical malaise and an almost animal excitement to the idea of exploring a very controversial aspect of our society, but also of my own sexuality."
The prostitute is only a means of satisfying a need, a curiosity: she is not even mentioned, the focus is only placed on the situation and how it will evoke this man.
"What really differentiates our evening from all of my past experiences was the predominance of my desires". The customer himself is aware that time is dedicated to his person, his desire, his pleasure, as he literally said. The quotes he used to frame the word "relations" are clearly suggestive: he understood it was not a "sexual relationship." in the sense that the term "relationship" implies a reciprocal action, which did not take place during his experience with the escort girl, but a unilateral relationship, entirely directed towards him.
The title is also particularly eloquent: "I tested for you... sex with an escort girl," taking the usual formula of consumers sharing their experiences about any product: the "prostitution" consumer magazines release.
Like all customers, he allowed his sexual desire, attraction of immediate gratification, and this consumer-type relation to take over his bad conscience and the feeling that this act is not fair. Surveys show that moral indifference characterizes many clients. One interesting thing: they get what they want, and at the lowest prices. "When I eat steak, I do not wonder if the cow has suffered," said one when asked about the risk of exploiting a trafficking victim client. The pleasure of the customer always takes precedence over everything else. Julia O'Connell Davidson shows that "this kind of moral indifference is very well accepted in society of these markets. Buyers are generally expected to act according to their own interests without being bound to those who make the products they buy or assume moral duty to them."
All customer experiences with a prostitute speak about the reality of it, the whole relation is about the client, and not a relation between others. A prostitute is the object through which the client is confronted with his own sexuality, his personality, himself, and assumes to fully be a man - as common representations depict males, it is to say, with irrepressible needs for which women are made to meet.
The conclusions of the customer are the following: to the question if he regreted having allowed himself to "use" another human being for his sake, he replied: "Yes and no." This experience was for him "fascinating and fun, and [he] remains convinced that prostitution can be practiced in mutual respect." He remains convinced, as he already was, which puts some doubt on its presentation as having been raised by a feminist, anti-prostitution mother and his description of himself and his "feminist side" obtained through his education.
In addition, he recognizes that prostitution may be exercised in mutual respect even though he is well aware that it automatically implies a unilateral relationship, as he himself noted previously. Where was the respect in his experience? He told himself that, on the one hand, the sexual "relationship" was actually completely turned to his own pleasure and absolutely not of the prostitute, on the other hand, she is pushed into prostitution by economic constraints, and finally he cannot be sure if she exercises this job "freely." Where lies the famous mutual respect which he is so sure exists?
The narcissistic fantasy world of a client
It is significant that "Un mec !" did not name the prostitute from whom he solicited services; the term, being exact, he prefered an orderly vocabulary. "Companion" is the word he used the most, but always with quotes, to understand that he was aware that it was not at any time a relationship of normal type, and that this woman had never been considered as a potential partner. He then used the term "woman," and frequently used "escort-girl/escort" to talk about it, but since he obviously did not want to be too redundant, he used it sometimes to talk abstractly about prostitutes.
The other dominant lexical field is that of fantasy, of erotic ideal, of the archetype of femininity embodied: "The meeting was simple and nice," "The woman who opened the door was graceful, charming, far from being vulgar, smiling, and I was immediately at ease," "respectful, sweet, and erotic at the same time," “sublime mastery of certain sexual acts."
"Un mec !” lives a waking dream, he is completely captivated by his "companion" that he compares, as one has seen, to a craftsman and he characterizes her as "beautiful, sweet, intelligent," to even consider having the "privilege to have encountered". The meeting took place in a unique setting, was accompanied by champagne, the atmosphere was conducive to all fantasies, the woman was available: "This woman is offered without limit and without discomfort to satisfy my desires", very sexually attractive but not vulgar: "Un mec !" actually experienced a true chic porn.
Suspicions of doubt, replaying a few times in the text, are completely cleared by this first sensation - very narcissistic - living a true fantasy, sanitized, controlled and gathering all the clichés of masculine and feminine, as of a pornographic film dedicated to him.
The cruel lack of empathy
The man who recounted his experience here comes from a privileged social background (he lived in London, for around 25 years, reported a refined language, and has the means to pay a prostitute whose rates are around 2,000 Ř ($2,743 USD) per night). A good representation of the contemporary capitalist mentality, buying a body for him is ultimately an action like any other, despite his single sentence stating that he minded it a bit.
This act is the very illustration of the theory of giving and anti-giving of anthropologist, Marcel Mauss. It shows the existence in an interpersonal relationship, in an exchange between individuals, this double obligation to give and get, up to what is received/given. These movements are at the same time voluntary and mandatory, because to disdain the other means to extract oneself from the system, and by extension, refuse the link to the other. Moreover, this amounts to admitting defeat and thus, to lose face.
Establishing the relationship between the client and the prostitute is such: as in the case of any goods, the customer interacts with the seller to acquire property. By paying, he has the illusion of being just about what he owes to the person with whom he has a commodity exchange, which is the only condition that can leave him with a clear conscience, and sometimes even with a feeling of having helped the prostitute.
For some years now, investigations on prostitution tend to be centered on the customer, trying to figure out who he is, trying to find a common denominator for all these consumers of prostitution who appear so different (socio-professional category, marital status, age, etc.).
The answer to this puzzling question, the mysterious point in common in all of these beings, seems to be emerging: they are men. What is less obvious, however, is the following clarification: it is because they are men (they are educated as such, they operate in a world of cultural representations in the strengthening of this typification genres) that they feel entitled to consume other beings, especially women (also educated as such and also moving in this world of gendered representations, thus accepting consciously or not their fate as dominated and potential objects).
This is the theory of Bourdieu reduced to its simplest form. For a system of domination to work, two major conditions must be met: first, that the dominant accepts and asserts their dominant position as natural, of course. And secondly, what is probably the most overwhelming part of this sad fact, that the dominated themselves accept their fate and domination as natural. That is why the root is not in the socio-professional categories or in the different generations that drive men to use women and it is in the anthropological representations of what a man is and what a woman is.
Franćoise Héritier shows, in two volumes Masculin/Féminin, that the observation of the difference between the sexes is the origin of all thought. Radka Radimska admirably sums up his point: "The reflections of men cannot be based on what was given to them to observe closer: the body is the medium in which it is immersed, yet the ultimate character and the most significant of human body, it is the difference between the sexes and the different gender roles in reproduction. All oppositions created by human reason are then listed in the grading grids into two poles: male and female, and one can find these two poles in all systems of representation that preclude concrete or abstract values (F. Heritier cites fundamental oppositions as hot/cold, wet/dry, high/low, inferior/superior, light/dark)."
Thus F. Héritier reveals the concept of the "gender differential valence" system showing that the value given to subjects and objects differs depending on the gender assigned to them, what is connoted as masculine traditionally emphasized to the detriment of what is connoted as feminine. For example, this explains that typically feminine activities, such as cooking or sewing, are represented at the highest level by men (starred chefs, famous fashion designers) because, since we are in the field of excellence, it is the side of the male. Vulgar daily kitchen work, this, belongs to women. Thus, at birth, humanity adopts an asymmetrical thinking of feminine and masculine.
Regarding prostitution, more specifically, Franćoise Héritier clearly notes this turnaround to hide this unequal relationship in essence: "To say that women have the right to sell is to hide that men have the right to buy. "It is also to hide the very foundations of anthropological representations, men are subjects, while women are already objects, who are exchanged against other groups of women (to renew the genetic stock), or against objects (if the male/female ratio in the group is disproportionate).
Claudine Legardinier wrote "Far from being the product of "nature" that he claims to be, the Prostitutor [= customer] would be especially that of its culture". Thus, what the clients of prostitution have in common is being custodians of these ancient representations depreciating women. In modern times, these destructive representations are coupled with market ideology, which redoubles. This aggravates the already derogatory perceptions of women, but also of men, placing each in gender roles that ultimately do not benefit their well-being, which they could access in a more egalitarian situation.
Fighting against this state of affairs is possible, as evidenced by changes in statutes and women's rights around the world. However, the road ahead is still very long. "When we have taught men and women to agree to respect and not to be ashamed of sex, you will not need prostitutes," says Gabrielle Partenza, president of the association, Avec Nos AĒnées (ANA). The Palermo Protocol, whose findings have been repeatedly advocated since 2000, under the protection of the United Nations, have established research, and launched focused information campaigns, especially on the education of gender equality, to curb the demand for prostitution. In addition, the Protocol clearly establishes a link between customer demand, exploitation and trafficking.
The first customer that history remembers, Enkidu, one of the central characters of Gilgamesh (the oldest novel in history, dating from the Mesopotamian era, end of the third millennium BC), created by the gods and raised by animals, accesses humanity by having sex with a prostitute (which the author did not bother to mention by name or word). Today, it is important to educate (potential) clients, who will access this full status of humanity - in the sense of philanthropy - to realize that their actions are just a timeless repetition of terrible inequality, which is absolutely not natural.
- « J’ai testé pour vous... coucher avec une escort-girl », « Un mec ! », Madmoizelle, February 2012.
- Bajos N., Bozon M., Belzer N., Enquźte sur la sexualité en France : Pratiques, genres et santé, French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), La Découverte Ed., 2006.
- Chaleil M., Prostitution, Le désir mystifié, L’Aventurine Ed., Paris, 2002.
- Dubois H., Brunet E., Les clients, Documentary, 52 minutes, 2006.
- Fondation Scelles, L’image de la prostitution dans les médias, CRIDES Thematic Overview, 2004.
- Héritier F., Masculin/Féminin, Odile Jacob Ed., Paris, 1996.
- Héritier F., Perrot M., Agacinski S., Bacharan N., La plus belle histoire des femmes, Seuil Ed., 2011.
- Legardinier C., « Prostitueurs, état des lieux », Prostitution et Société, n.163, October 2009.
- Legardinier C., Le plus vieux métier du monde, Les points sur les i Ed., Paris, 2012.
- Mansson S.A., L’homme dans le commerce du sexe, University of Lund, 1987.
- O’Connell Davidson J., « The Sex Tourist, the Expatriate, his ex-Wife and her ‘Other’: the Politics of Loss, Difference and Desire », Sexualities, Vol.4, n.1, 2001.
- Radimska R., « La différence des sexes en tant que fondement de la vision et de la division du monde », Sens public, October 6th, 2003.
- RIEC Noord Holland, Methodiek ‘Inzicht in prostitutiebranche’, October 19th, 2010.
Prostitution remains a subject that demands explanation; the scandals it provokes supply ripe stories to be published, and has been transformed into a business all of its own. By bringing together two worlds that otherwise had little chance of collision, prostitution provokes a chain reaction of scandal and public interest.
The previous few years have provided particularly rich stories: Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), Silvio Berlusconi, and Zahia affairs which took place one after the other and, once analyzed, appear extremely similar despite different actors and settings. Each of these widely published stories reflects the ambivalence born from prostitution. It is, at the same time, fascination and repulsion, producing unprecedented social shockwaves. DSK and Nafissatou Diallo are now known worldwide, with hundreds of reproductions centered on their “encounter”, objects made in their image, and direct parodies, all surfacing after the exposure of their sex scandal.
Public opinion is by and large offended. The average population continues to wonder how those in power can continue to act with the moral and ethical fragility largely associated to normal people. And, thanks to large-scale media hype, prostitution has developed acclaim or, in any case, become a social craze within the public eye, especially in the eyes of the young.
The activity attracts the eyes of many by the same fantasies that it provokes. It represents the breach of rules and becomes synonymous with the world of the powerful that is aligned with the idealized life of both danger and mystery. To put it simply, prostitution represents a life of adventure, in every sense of the word.
In addition prostitution represents simplification; it is the reduction of a complex world to a situation dominated by market transactions. In this way, the difficulty of ethical considerations, empathy, understanding, philanthropy, and human relations is erased entirely. Existing in an idealized world – lawless, liberated, governed by money, materialism and pure power – prostitution creates a tempting illusion.
To give an example, the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, accused of having paid sexual relations with Chinese dignitaries – most notably Bo Xilai, dismissed from the communist party in 2012 after a murder involving him and his wife – earned tens of millions of dollars for her “work.” Due to her involvement in notably successful films (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Rush Hour 2, Memoirs of a Geisha), her financial success leaves many wondering why she would practice prostitution. Did she want to earn more money? Did she want to maintain a strong network to ensure her career? Both answers appear possible, even probable. However, her decision may have also been influenced by the feeling experienced by those with power, that they can obtain and offer anything that they desire, including human beings. In certain power structures, it is hard, if not impossible, for women to say no.
Besides the issues of power, prostitution is also a response to individual suffering. Prostitution claims clearly, “yes, there are characteristics that construct women, and there are those that construct men. At the heart of these characteristics, divisions exist. On one side, we find pure women: On the other, whores. Men are nothing more than the victims of sexual desires, and they will never be mastered. To put these beasts to rest, to ensure that they do not spill over into violence toward those we respect, prostitutes serve their purpose. That is the way it has always been, and the way it always will be.”
In reality, this archetypal construction, a reduction of humans to sexual objects, is the only thing as old as humanity itself. The archetypes appear and reappear in diverse texts; it’s a temptation to simplify that continues today, and is supported by advertisements and media.
Nevertheless, following multiple sexual affairs that became the subject of media frenzy, which will be analyzed later on, these anthropological representations of the dichotomized human, far from being erased, have grown in scale. This phenomenon remains especially true in regard to the young, bombarded by raw and evocative images and situations.
Today, prostitution conceals itself under the umbrella term “escorting” which takes advantage of a term that is not yet fully understood to signify the activity it describes. Seductive, sparkling attire, fabulous parties, and famous, powerful figures now gild the dirty connotation of “prostitution.” In this way, it has become a comfortable idea for the younger generation, as a tame word in line with the physical criteria of beauty and elegance.
A necessity for elegant enjoyment exists now more than ever before. For here on, we have to enjoy ourselves longer and more fabulously than those who came before, to take full advantage of new means of communication, of consumption. The schemas that associate a woman’s body to objects of consumption, and trapping men in the idea that they are the natural consumers, have never been stronger.
What we are seeing is therefore an increased attraction to this type of prostitution. The market-society demonstrates the value of individuals as proportional to their monetary capital; escorting allows us to rapidly earn and gain access to the social status of an icon. For these reasons, a certain number of young girls find themselves dreaming of escorting as the royal road to fame and riches. A true tragedy, many of these girls consider the sale of their bodies to be the only way for them to obtain what they want, as in the case Zahia, or F. Ribéry’s “birthday present.”
The question of what causes this phenomenon is rarely put on the table. For what reasons do these men believe it appropriate to call for the services of these women? Why do those around them tolerate it? Why are these behaviors considered scandalous, only once they are brought to the public’s attention? And, finally, why does the public feel as though it has been betrayed after discovering a scandal?
Once caught, the public lashings that politicians inflict on themselves are often similar. They appear contrite, tears gleaming in their eyes, but proper. The excuses follow, and the words they use fall in line with pious sentiments. Bill Clinton, in his televised admittance of an affair on August 17th, 1998 claimed, “Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.” Tiger Woods, on February 19th, 2010 stated, “I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, to give one final example, claimed on September 18th, 2011, “It was not just a weakness, it was a moral fault.”
The multiple affairs of DSK, or The Women of the 6th Floor (Philippe Le Guay, 2011)
It is impossible to mention the topic of celebrity affairs and glance over the one that blew up into worldwide media frenzy. Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) and Nafissatou Diallo are, from here on out, icons of sexual relationships based on power. The mere mention of either name suffices to bring back clear memories of the case and its facts.
In one meeting between these two, a plethora of power relationships can be described: Man and woman, black and white, rich and poor, powerful and marginalized, northern and southern, power and vulnerability, fame and anonymity. The possibilities of dichotomized relationships in this case are endless.
From the first day, the breaking news of the affair between DSK and Nafissatou Diallo heavily impacted France, the United States, and the global community. It was only a few hours afterward that Taiwanese television channels published a series of images to reconstruct what happened.
Throughout the day, opinions of experts, commentators, and close friends provided an endless stream of information for radios, newspapers, television programs, and websites. In France and around the world, conversation revolved heavily around what may have happened in Room 2806.
But what makes this story so unbelievable? Quite simply, people were incapable of understanding why it happened. “But why her?” “Why a maid, who isn’t beautiful or young, when he could buy almost any woman he wanted, given his money, power, and status? Why would he risk everything for her?”
In addition to these questions, it became clear that this scandal was only the beginning. DSK’s “affair” with Piroska Nagy, one of his co-workers at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), came to light a few days later. The woman in question soon left the IMF, with a bonus that her professional experience did not merit. DSK’s affair at the Carlton hotel in Lille took place during the same year. In this case, he was accused of gang rape and procuring. The accusation of gang rape was later dropped, however the second is still under legal consideration. After returning from New York, pronounced innocent of all charges, DSK was again confronted with another legal case. Tristan Banon, a French journalist, appeared ready to press charges against Strauss-Kahn for an alleged rape in 2002. The case was subsequently dropped, and did not result in criminal conviction.
More recently, another case has been brought to light, after the publication of “Belle et bźte” by Marcela Iacub. The work, which describes the relationship between the author and Strauss-Kahn, resulted in legal proceedings. From this point forward, the publication company must insert a note in each copy to explain that the book is an infringement on DSK’s right to privacy. As a result, DSK received 50,000 Ř in legal remuneration.
As for the affair between DSK and Nafissatou Diallo, the civil case was decided out of court. The woman in question, who became the subject of endless analysis, received more than $1 million USD in damages.
The movie “Women of the 6th floor” uses Paris of the 1960s as its backdrop. In the heart of the city, a young man with a strict moral code discovers a group of beautiful young Spanish girls living on the top floor of his building. By meeting them, he becomes aware of a simpler universe that seduces him in the same way as one of the young Spanish girls. His decision, however, does not please the other characters of the play, who don’t support mixing social classes.
In this film, the world of the working class and that of the bourgeois collide. Their collision reveals the gaps that exist between their mentalities and ways of life. It is, nevertheless, the improbability of their relationship which adds flare to the storyline.
In the DSK affair, the story progresses in a similar fashion. The master falls from his pedestal to meet women living with modest means, and momentarily they share their daily lives, while experiencing new pleasures.
He already possesses women of high society, but they are not enough. He wants all of them, no matter who they are or what they do. One of the prostitutes, who is used to what the press curiously calls “the fine parts” of DSK, says herself that he prefers newcomers.
DSK’s line of defense in the majority of these cases is simple. The women always consent. Nafissatou Diallo, Tristan Banon, the diverse prostitutes, all of them. But the testimonies of each of these women, who dared to publically mention DSK’s brutality, are similar and almost interchangeable. Are they a line of defense proposed by lawyers or a true confession? A mix of both, it seems. Some have gone so far as to pardon DSK in the name of his “French” nature, which supposedly produces men with unnaturally high libido.
The unending Berlusconi case, or The Learned Ladies (MoliŹre, 1672)
Silvio Berlusconi is used to being inside the courtroom. Since the 1990s, he has been through many trials, with a mix of politics, the mafia, arms, embezzlement, false testimony, abuse of power, corruption, tax fraud, prostitution, the list goes on. In short, he is the only man to have every necessary ingredient for a good movie on the Italian underworld, or on any underworld, for that matter.
As a preventative measure, while he was still in power and his cases began to pile up, he passed multiple laws allowing him to push back judgment day. One such law granted the Prime Minister of Italy immunity during his mandate. Another stipulated that all prison sentences of under two years given to those over the age of 75 would be carried out under house arrest.
S. Berlusconi is currently 77 years old, and was recently condemned to one year in prison. He has challenged the decision in Italy, allowing his sentence to be suspended until retrial.
If S. Berlusconi is famous for his extra-marital affairs and his “bunga-bunga” parties, he has also attracted Europe’s attention by his choices in policy staff. In 2007, he announced the creation of his party, the People of Freedom (Il Popolo della Libertą) meant to reassemble the Italian right wing.
Two years later, during European elections, he chose original electoral rolls consisting of young, attractive women with few ties and little knowledge of the political world. With television coverage and photos, he put forward those who were denounced in the press as his “bimbos.” After a bit of research, it was discovered that a few of the women had visited the Prime Minister’s villa in Milan, reputed to be a place for orgy parties always supplied with prostitutes.
The pressure generated by this scandal was important (Berlusconi’s wife went as far as to describe her husband’s choice as “the emperor’s entertainment”). S. Berlusconi eventually decided to keep only one of the women, a former television presenter, despite the fact that the young woman of 28 years had no knowledge of politics and considered herself unfit to enter into the political system.
But S. Berlusconi, nicknamed the Cavaliere had not said his last word. The following year, during Italy’s regional elections, he employed the same tactic. The strategy is clear, he does not conceal it: “A woman can be good in politics by simply being young and maybe also by being pretty” he claimed, during an interview (L’Express, February 24th, 2010).
One of these women, who was lucky enough to be elected, was formerly a dental assistant who had helped repair the Cavaliere’s teeth after he was attacked in Milan. Another was a television star and model, assumed to have participated in the special parties held by S. Berlusconi, and was proud to introduce herself as his favorite.
The most recent case is often referred to as Rubygate. S. Berlusconi allegedly purchased the services of (at least) one child prostitute, named Ruby. S. Berlusconi confirmed numerous times throughout the affair that he was unaware of the girl’s age, before going back on his own statements like the Cavaliere himself.
An investigation into the case is currently underway. S. Berlusconi, as well as certain close relations, is facing charges that include the abuse of power, exploitation of prostitutes, and sexual exploitation of minors.
Similar to certain characters in MoliŹre’s plays, Silvio Berlusconi doesn’t seriously value intelligent women. His selection criterion is always the same: physical appearance. His apparently insatiable sexual appetite pushes him to reward his conquests by naming them to positions of power. The Cavaliere’s mistresses are dispersed everywhere, in both the public and private professional spheres.
The famous learned ladies, who give their title to MoliŹre’s play, are not ridiculous because of their will to learn, but because they believe they are learning from individuals who are, in reality, pretentious and of little worth.
“If you ever feed your mind at all, everyone says it is with airy diet”.
For the majority of those who accept positions of power for this type of remuneration, the situation unravels in a similar manner. Dazzled by S. Berlusconi’s charisma, or by the lure of easy power, these women willingly accept to see themselves brought into the political world as a pretty face, claimed as learned.
The amateurism of the affair involving Barack Obama’s bodyguards, or Female Agents (Jean-Paul Salomé, 2008)
The resume of facts is the same, despite the article or its publisher: a short time before the U.S. President arrived in Columbia to attend the US-Latin American summit, an affair took place which challenged the legitimacy of secret service agents who had come to prepare for the President’s arrival.
The bodyguards are reported to have drunk heavily, according to the hotel staff, before inviting a group of 10 or more prostitutes into their room. Their actions were revealed to the public at large the next morning, when the Columbian police were called to resolve a financial dispute between a prostitute and a bodyguard. The man wanted to give her $30 USD, though he had proposed to pay her $800 USD the previous night.
The local police, embarrassed to become involved in the situation, called the American Embassy. The agents in questions were sent back to the United States one day after the President’s arrival.
“Out of the 11 Secret Service members suspended and awaiting the result of an investigation of this case, ‘one member was authorized to retire, another is in the process of being fired… another left his position,’ affirmed the Secret Service.” From the same source, “the eight other employees remain suspended,’ while the internal investigation continues” (7 sur 7, April 19th, 2012).
The information and reactions communicated by the press in different articles are interchangeable: Barack Obama affirms that this incident does not reduce his interest for the US-Latin American summit, while he continues to put full faith into his Secret Service. In addition, despite the affair, it was continually affirmed that the President’s security was not jeopardized.
Other actors directly involved in the summit who talked about the event, were discontent to see attention focused on the scandal instead of on the political meeting.
“It’s incredible; four days after the US-Latin American Summit that brought together Barack Obama and 32 other heads of state, no one is talking about the meeting,” proclaimed Maria Teresa Aya, director of the Columbian Diplomatic Academy. “The international press is only interested in prostitution scandals.” A young government worker of the Ministry of Exterior Relations proclaimed angrily, “we slaved away for this damned summit and, in the end, it was only for a story about prostitutes” (Le Monde, April 20th, 2012).
Finally, as in many other occasions, what is disconcerting is that the agents acted in this way while working for the President preparing his arrival, not that they bought prostitutes in the first place. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, stated, “For Reuters, this incident brings to light the human weaknesses and working conditions of men in the shadows. Those who don’t travel with the President sometimes organize parties once Air Force One takes off toward other destinations. There exists a need to decompress that P. King does not deny, explaining that ‘what is most worrying in the case at hand, is that the party took place before his arrival’”.
The discredit thrown onto the United States is equally as worrying. For the nation that is believed to help bring light onto the world, such a scandal heavily tarnishes its reputation. Throughout all testimonies, honor was the golden string to tie all words together, as men began to express regret in the name of their country.
The ethical questions around prostitution itself, or the working conditions of the women who were bought, were never tackled. In the end of the affair, only one of them is known by the public eye. Calling the police to settle financial issues and giving an interview a bit later, she had this to say about the agent’s stupidity:
“They were a bunch of fools. They are responsible for Obama’s security and they still let this happen. I could have done a thousand other things. If I had wanted to, I could have gone through all his documents, his wallet, his suitcase” (The Telegraph, May 5th, 2012).
In the film Female Agents, Louise Desfontaines, an agent engaged in the French resistance, is given the mission to smuggle out a British agent captured by Germans.
In order to accomplish her mission, she brings together a dream team: she choses GaĎlle, a chemist; Suzy, a cabaret dancer; Jeanne, a prostitute. Out of these four women, only Louise is a professional agent. Beside the chemist, who is recruited for her talents in explosive material, the two other women are recruited for the talents in seducing men.
Today, this practice remains in place. In order to trap male agents, their weak points have to be exploited; send them women. For this reason, it is difficult to find a James Bond or any other secret again without the essential seductress, who plays a double role to charm the agent and extract information from him.
If the Columbian prostitutes had themselves been secret agents, like the characters of the film, it would have been easy for them to access information transported by the agents and to put Barack Obama’s life in danger. Given all of the international repercussions that could have resulted, this hypothetical situation is the most worrying element of the affair.
The Enigmatic Zahia affair, or Born Yesterday (Georges Cukor, 1950)
The affair in question is certainly one of the largest media successes in the last few months. Its success may be explained by the fact that, unlike the three other affairs listed above, it is the only story with the prostitute as main character, leaving her clients to the sidelines. Throughout the press, she is the only person mentioned; Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema, the main French football players involved, are mostly brought up in relation to judicial decisions.
Football and prostitution maintain a long relationship; the scandals that tie these two spheres together are numerous and similar. During large sport events, they highlight the emotions of fans, and are later left in a forgotten limo until a new affair explodes into the public eye. January 2011 saw the scandal involving players from the Swedish team, July of the same year brought scandal onto the Mexican team, and every World Cup brings a large influx of prostitutes into whatever country happens to host. The 2006 World Cup in Germany witnessed the construction of numerous super structures dedicated to prostitution, before the arrival of a massive number of testosterone boosted fans. For example, a new “megabrothel” of 32,291 sq ft was built in order to welcome 650 clients right next to the principal stadium in Berlin. Smaller, bathroom sized constructions were also built on site, to be used by clients and prostitutes alike. Despite the large number of prostitutes who worked throughout the event, the women who sell their bodies remain largely unnamed and unmentioned.
The juvenile Zahia, conquered the public because she evoked an emotional reaction, because she was a minor who resembled a naive doll while she was a prostitute, and because she developed a certain mystery around herself, by her frequent silence often incorrectly attributed to her soft character. She embodies a story close to a modern fairy tale; hers is simultaneously cruel and enchanted, as traditional stories often were.
Zahia refuses to be assimilated as a prostitute, and differentiates the activity from that of escorting.
“You know, it is always men who give me propositions. It’s for this reason that I refuse to be called a prostitute. I am not on the edge of a sidewalk, or sitting on a barstool. I go out into connected areas; I meet people in show business, in sports… But they propose… and I decide” (Paris Match, May 3rd, 2010).
And yet, in the net section of the article, she admits (like many women in her situation) that she sold her body to obtain a sufficient amount of money to open her own beauty parlor. The activity therefore is not one that she practices in total liberty for her own pleasure. Prostitution is considered to be a temporary activity, justified by a future project that requires funding.
For this reason, far from being the naēve, limited white girl targeted by a media who wanted to paint an unflattering, lachrymose picture of her (which was always centered on her physical appearance), Zahia seems to have mastered the subtle manipulation of her media coverage. Today, no one speaks of her as the French team’s favorite prostitute, but as a popular fashion creator protected by reputed figures (Karl Lagerfeld, notably).
When typing her name into international search engines, many pages have to be flipped through in order to find an article that deals with the first reason behind the young girl’s popularity. This phenomenon eclipses the means that she employed to arrive at her stardom, giving a large number of young girls the idea that they can achieve their dreams by following in the footsteps of a former sex worker.
These young girls are generally not aware of the implications on gender relations, and believe that using their body as an object is the best way to succeed in life. This conformity to a norm that treats women as merchandise allows them few means of affirming themselves as an individual.
This type of behavior and attitude, expected according to an individual’s sex, was theorized by Christophe Dejours, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, in 1988 under the name of Mulierity. As Pascale Molinier notes, Mulierity is “a defensive identity of sex that consists of ‘making the woman’ to avoid manly victimization. The female collective that, in order to forget its oppression and to not suffer, restrains women to give up all aspirations contrary to social femininity, relieving the collective masculine identity.” She also notes that Mulierity degrades self-esteem and selfhood (the varying identifying part of each individual that makes him or her unique). By trying too hard to incarnate the culturally constructed feminine archetype, we finish by forgetting who we truly are and remain lost.
The young women who are fascinated by the Zahia model, or by bimbos on reality television, have no idea how hard prostitution can be, and are unaware of the physical or psychological damage that can result. These women belong to the hyper sexualized period of our society that Jocelyne Robert, a sexologist and author, defines as such:
“XXX scenes and pornography are disappearing in public space. It is increasingly rare to speak of eroticism, relations, signification, desire, pleasure, expectation, consent, education, or sexuality… It’s rigid sex, parochial, focused on genitals, consumerist, mechanic, and rushed. It has squeezed its partner, sexuality, that in its own corner continues to embrace emotional, sensual, relational, emotional and identifiable panoramas…” (Les Nouvelles News, January 26th, 2012)
For Zahia, the story does not end badly in principle, but how many other broken lives have been left in wake of the story? Despite a period of her life that was determined by prostitution, it seems that she has succeeded in creating a free future for herself.
As in the film Born Yesterday, Billie Dawn, a former cabaret dancer, is estimated to be an imbecile before reality tears down these initial conceptions. Due to a team that never leaves her, and controls the smallest details of her life, Zahia knew how to use her image as an airhead in order to manage her fame and her business with an iron first hidden under a pink velvet glove.
The mix of power and prostitution: A Matter of Taste (Bernard Rapp, 2000)
Those accused of being at fault attempt to restore their image by adopting the figure of the repentant sinner. It’s next to their spouse, their family, and their country that they break down into excuses. At the heart of these famous affairs, the most important aspect of the game is honor. Collective honor is the only victim of the four cases studied under this theme, as in all others. As for the prostitutes, they are not often taken into account by article or by the excuses offered (except for Zahia, who fascinated the public eye). These women remain the object at the beginning of the entire affair.
The term “affair,” systematically employed for this type of event, is a soft euphemism that covers a cold reality. “The initial refusal to name facts is discerned throughout the entire scandal,” as Karine Hamedi notes. “The term ‘affair’ seems to create its own reality in and of itself, by designating scandalous facts that are completely separate from political debate”. She remarks as well that all “affairs” mix a conflict of values with a power conflict.
In this way, when an emotional element is added to the story, using this term becomes appropriate in certain well-defined frameworks. At its origin, “affair” is used to name sentimental relations and is always assigned to describe extra-marital relations in Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. In tandem with the spouse or the humiliated victim, the public feels cheated by the actions of the person they had admired or respected beforehand. The public feels vindicated by excuses made in their name and in the name of the victim.
In these four affairs, public opinion, media, and the protagonist concentrate heavily on the context and repercussion of the events, not on prostitution itself. In the DSK “affairs” such as those centered on S. Berlusconi or the U.S. Secret Service, only socio-political impacts are analyzed publically. In the Zahia “affair” the equivalent impact is felt in the realm of international sport.
The trials of S. Berlusconi and D. Strauss-Kahn remain in motion. Those of F. Ribéry and K. Benzema began in June 2013. But to this date, none of the stories can clarify the causes and real conditions of prostitution. Far to the contrary, they have glorified the activity, hiding it under a dazzling and trendy garb. In the eyes of the young, the activity appears and heavily influences their sexual-psychological development.
Public opinion largely tolerates the meetings between powerful figures and their mistresses and prostitutes. Even when hidden, the public is likely to forgive reprehensible practices, knowing that they exist and considering them to be a natural result of power. It is precisely this welding of power and sex that is important to question. It confirms a symbolic order in which, once you become rich, it becomes normal to collect women like cars or works of art. Under the same heading as a luxury good, women become part of the “package” of power.
As long as the media covers only the glamorous aspects of these “affairs,” they will continue to glance over the essential elements. Their refusal to dig further into the problem helps perpetuate old, degrading schemas for women and human beings. For this reason, it is unfortunately probable that both tabloids and prostitution have productive and lucrative days ahead.
- « Colombian prostitute thought Obama bodyguards were 'fools' », The Telegraph, May 5th, 2012.
- « L’hypersexualisation des jeunes, c’est celle de notre culture », Les Nouvelles News, January 26th, 2012.
- « Scandale de prostitution dans l’entourage d’Obama », 7 sur 7, April 19th, 2012.
- « Un scandale de prostitution éclabousse le Secret Service américain », Le Monde, April 16th, 2012.
- Benhaiem A., « Deux bimbos sur la liste du parti de Berlusconi », L’Express, February 24th, 2010.
- Bloudy M., « Exclusif Zahia. L’interview intégrale », Paris Match, May 3rd, 2010.
- CRIDES/Fondation Scelles, Revue de l’actualité internationale de la prostitution, 2012.
- Delcas M., « La "mauvaise conduite" des policiers d'élite de Barack Obama en Colombie fait scandale », Le Monde, April 20th, 2012.
- Fondation Scelles, Charpenel Y. (sous la direction), Exploitation sexuelle - Prostitution et crime organisé, Economica Ed., Paris, 2012.
- Hamedi K., Scandale et suicide politiques : Destins croisés de Pierre Bérégovoy et Robert Boulin, L’Harmattan Ed., Paris, 2008.
- Molinier P., « Féminité sociale et construction de l’identité sexuelle : perspectives théoriques et cliniques en psychodynamique du travail », L'orientation scolaire et professionnelle, December 1st, 2005.
In 2002, Marie-Joseph Bertini noted that women only represent 18% of people cited in the media. After a long study of semantics and statistics of three large, typical nations, she arrived at the conclusion that the main function of the media is to establish a pre-existing symbolic order, with everyone in their respective places. In order to do this, the media does not describe the world, but they prescribe it; they give the people what they think should be the “real” truth: women are subject to their place, where they are dominated.
This remark seems to also apply to the journalistic treatment of prostitution. Indeed, the media continue to portray this theme with a lot of recurring archetypal descriptions, demonstrating a concern for sensationalism rather than a real examination. This is particularly visible in the way in which prostitution activity, the figure of the client, and the procurer are all presented.
Prostitution in France as seen from the written press
In the analysis of press articles treating prostitution in France, the study of individuals working on this topic is particularly instructive. It shows that these individuals can be separated into two distinct groups. On the one hand, those who oppose abolitionism and the criminalization of the client, on the other hand, those who support both.
The first group criticizes the abolition of exploitation of prostitutes and the penalization of clients. Of the 42 activists of this first group, only 13 have direct contact with a prostitute (31%). In all of the studied articles, the prostitutes (with the exclusion of those who claim directly to the Union of Sex Workers –STRASS) count themselves among those who have the least access to speak and/or who wish to communicate less.
Contrarily, the second group mainly wishes to abolish prostitution and penalize the clients. Of the 35 participating, 28 have a direct link with prostitution (80%). Three-quarters of them exercise, campaign, or work directly in structures related to gender and/or prostitution.
Beyond this first analysis regarding differing opinions, the second theme most frequently treated by the press is that of individuals whose homes adjoin places of prostitution.
The focus is now largely located on their complaints: the complaints which one hears most often involve the aspects of prostitution that affect their own lives, as also illustrated in the choice of name for a group of individuals, "no prostitution-in-front-of-our-homes."
Very few residents worry about the living conditions of prostitutes. While they are direct witnesses to the conditions of violence in which they operate, it is the nuisance that these activities involve that bother them most. For example, they are not concerned with the health of prostitutes who are infected with diseases, but rather the fear of themselves contracting the diseases (except grassroots organizations directly involved in the health of these women).
The image of the client in the written press
To this topic, throughout the course of 2012, the stakeholders multiplied and varied, but the articles on the client are less numerous (51) than those discussing prostitutes (384). The debate mostly focuses around the question of the penalization of the client, essentially consisting of arguments in favor or in disfavor of this action. On one side, one third of articles oppose penalization (17 out of 51 articles). On the other side, those who are in favor of the penalization of clients (11 out of 51) account for 21% in total. Another component is the neutral articles (24), who simply state the facts linked to the question of punishments of client, or treat another connected subjects (46% of total articles).
It is interesting to note that of the 51 articles concerning prostitution, only three are written by clients or ex-clients and, always anonymously.
MAIN ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PENALIZATION OF CLIENTS (6)
First argument : appearing 25 times
Second argument : appearing 18 times
Third argument : appearing 13 times
Fourth argument : appearing 13 times
Fifth argument : appearing 5 times
Sixth argument : appearing 4 times
1 : The penalization of the client would degrade the working conditions of this activity
2 : It is intolerable that others decide, instead of prostitutes (note that many of those who speak in this sense have never used prostitutes either)
3 : It is necessary to differentiate free prostitution and forced prostitution
4 : Wanting to abolish prostitution is a moral concern, therefore it has no place in this debate
5 : Criticism of the Swedish model, presented as biased, dangerous, hypocritical, and difficult to assess
6 : Positive argument (contrary to all other critics) that promotes the merits of formalizing prostitution
MAIN ARGUMENTS FOR THE PENALIZATION OF CLIENTS (7)
First argument : appearing 19 times
Second argument : appearing 15 times
Third argument : appearing 14 times
Fourth argument : appearing 11 times
Fifth argument : appearing 10 times
Sixth argument : appearing 10 times
Seventh argument : appearing 3 times
1 :Prostituion is thought of as a place of profound inequality between men and women, a relationship of domination, a violence of gender (mental and physical) causing severe effects
2 : Refusing the sale of the human body, sexual exploitation, and the normalization of the sale of humans for the defense of human dignity
3 : Prostitutes are thought of as individuals in vulnerable situations, already under stress (economic, emotional, family, etc.), and in clandestine situations, which makes the argument of free choice irrelevant
4 : Necessity of prevention on the subject of prostitution so that prostitutes can escape the system and create a new life
5 : The myth of the “good” client is deconstructed: this person does not exist in reality
6 : Comparisons of situations of different countries in which prostitution was legalize or abolished, such as Netherlands/Germany on one side and Sweden on the other
7 : The deconstruction of the widespread idea that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and therefore it is impossible to stop
Opposing themes of the two groups
the penalization of the client
the penalization of the client
Legalization of prostitution
The legalization of prostitution would provide prostitutes with better living conditions. This is said without relying on any specific study. The first three speakers simply imagine that the formalization allows those who engage in this activity and who reject the networks to live better. The fourth person, an activist of STRASS, for her part announced that “the associations have been saying that the more repressed prostitution is, the more working conditions are deteriorating”. Yet there is no mention of the names of the associations in question, or their sources. Thus, the assertion that the formalization of prostitution would be beneficial and prostitutes would deviate from organized crime, remains totally unsupported here.
Two supporters of the criminalization of four clients are based on real-life examples to support the assertion that legalizing prostitution would actually be an invitation for criminal networks. The first speaker takes the example of Eros Center, where “the majority of prostitutes who exercise is not voluntary”, without citing sources. However, the individual interviewed on this issue is the author of a book on prostitution. The second speaker takes the example of the Netherlands and Germany to show that “regulation is the most effective way to increase the market of ‘sex worker’, to open the ‘Eros Centers’ where one practices rapid prostitution, and to protect the interests of procurers, so that they become mere managers, hoteliers, businessmen like the others”. Indeed, these countries do not punish individuals collecting “rent” from prostitutes who pay to exercise within these institutions.
The theme of articles opposing the criminalization of the client – as well as for the issue of legalization – simply stated this opinion without any further argument. The mere fact that some prostitutes engage in this activity voluntarily is enough.
To say that everyone is free to make his own life choices without taking into account their context means that everyone is completely free at any point in his life, and no determinism weights on him.
The profile of procurers in the written press
In the articles discussing prostitution, the figure of the procurer is central (312 articles out of 747, 42%), in contrast to that of the client. The subject of the procurer is treated very carefully. The majority of articles are only concerned with judicial facts. In general, the 314 articles address two main topics:
- Acts of justice against highly organized procurers, acting mostly through networks (142 articles, 46%);
- The “Carlton de Lille” affair and the connected elements (111 articles, 36%).
The remaining 18% deal in decreasing order with "Julotcasse-croěte," "massage" parlors, the figures available on the subject, various facts, stories of people, such as (former) prostitutes, and the actions of one of the sons of Muammar Gaddafi on the Côte d'Azur.
Of the 312 articles dedicated to procuring in the French press, 303 are written in journals, 9 texts are written by people (not journalists) who are truly engaged.
No journalist article truly attempts to describe the character of a procurer, probably because there is no doubt about it. As the customer remains a mystery, it is assumed that the procurer is either a brutal, misogynist, "bad guy" often from Eastern Europe, or a determined man in a precarious situation, living on the earnings of his wife. In the first case, journalists do not research the personality and history of the individual. In the second case, the procurer - sometimes called "Julotcasse-croěte" - is frequently presented as a confused man, experiencing social and emotional difficulties. He is also often described as so in love with his wife he agrees to abide by the "choice" of the latter to exercise prostitution activity.
In general, individuals are rarely referred to as procurers, but rather they are “Julot” and their workers act in a “voluntary” manner. The tone of these articles is quasi-empathetic, as if the men were to be pitied more than the prostitutes who work for them. The articles are often written in a way to emphasize the distress of the “Julot,” or his indignation, completely erasing the victim –the prostitute. Within this phenomenon, one can see the resurgence of the well-established idea that all women must belong to a man, as shown in particular in the work of Francoise Heritier. The owner has by definition the right to freely dispose of his property. If his wife adopted a perceived attitude degrading to a woman, it is ultimately the man, who inflicts his opinion on his wife, that reflects the shame and therefore pity.
In the affair of Carlton de Lille, the argument for the defense of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) renews this idea that the true victim is the man, and not the woman, who is still suspected of being a temptress. Everything lies in this charade. During the "libertine" parties, it would have been impossible to determine that some women present were prostitutes. This idea is presented by one of the lawyers of DSK as follows: "Il [DSK] pouvait parfaitement l’ignorer car figurez-vous qu’ą ces soirées, on n’est pas forcément habillé et je vous défie de distinguer une prostituée nue d’une femme du monde nue (He [DSK] could well ignore the prostitution because one imagines that on these evenings, one is not necessarily dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from a naked woman of the world) "(Le Nouvel Observateur, January 21st, 2012). This sentence, a rare symbolic violence, reflects the common thought that every woman is potentially a sinful dormant, ready to play as an object of desire, that is to say to fulfill the man’s destiny of women as objects. Simply, there is a type of women which one must pay for and the other ones are free, but must testify their ways.
In other words, one returns to the classic archetypal images of the woman and the Holy Whore, which are exclusive of each other and classify women between honest, respectable mothers versus sinful, attractive, bad women. Except that in modern times, it would be difficult to differentiate; these two categories are typically so distant from each other, but they are found mixed and indistinguishable because of the nudity in particular, as if only the clothes allow men to differentiate the types of women. This also implies that a naked woman is necessarily a "whore,” a body always available to men. By triggering the desire of men - still often presented as uncontrollable - she becomes the object of the desire, and of this gratification of consuming power. Therefore, she is powerful because she has a power that man cannot control, so men reduce her to the ontological figure of a “whore,” in order to render her less powerful and more controllable.
The very rare articles, from former prostitutes, that discuss procurers are very alarming. And yet, a certain reserve characteristics a large percentage of these few stories, as if not all could be said.
This, without a doubt, demonstrates the fear that procurers provoke. They are violent, cruel, and do not hesitate to threaten the families, adapting their methods to the beliefs of the family, such as witchcraft rituals performed on African women.
A former British prostitute explains that procurers mostly use the method of discrediting the word of survivors. This reduces individuals, and thus causes others to doubt the veracity of their stories of terrible experiences, which could affect the glamorous image of prostitution. Clichés representing procurers as individuals assuming their condition openly, the author explains that in reality, they have become much more subtle, and therefore more dangerous.
In conclusion, a failed mission…and lots more work
In his book on the French press, Pierre Albert highlights the existence of "French" critical journalism of expression and commentary. Yet when the French media covers prostitution, they are anything but critical. Rather, they merely report the facts matching many clichés - sometimes tearful, sometimes liberal-voyeuristic. They rarely question the root causes of prostitution, a subject remaining rather unknown to the public. The media reflects again and again the same archetypal representations of prostitution, maintaining the public’s idea that prostitutes are willing and free in their sexuality, instead of women exploited against their will. Whatever the theme of the article, the tone is often descriptive, giving great detail on the outfits and shapes (observed when subjects are female). Photos, always centered on the body of prostitutes illustrate this desire to expose prostitution, failing to hear or to really dig into the ins and outs.
The overall result is clearly catchy, perhaps because the mental representations of prostitution are, and thus the journalist gives his work not what he sees but what the reader wants to see him. Or maybe just because it sells.
In 2004, the Fondation Scelles noted on the subject of prostitution in the media that "l'approche est parfois sensationnaliste ou misérabiliste ; le goět pour l'histoire individuelle, le