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Prostitution > Should clients of prostitutes be punished?


By Florence Montreynaud, author of Amours à vendre. Les Dessous de la prostitution (Love to Sell: the Underside of Prostitution) (Glénat, 1993) as well as numerous articles on the subject of " clients ".

She launched the movement Chiennes de Garde (Guard Dogs) of which she was the first president, then that of La Meute (The Pack) against sexist publicity.

She leads the network "Encore féministes !" ("Still Feminist")

The following article appeared for the first time in Le Monde dated 6 June 2002.

© Dominique Resch

In Strasbourg as in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, the exasperated residents demonstrate against prostitution and its nuisances: noisy comings and goings of cars in the quiet streets, visible pornographic scenes in the windows of houses, used condoms found on the ground the day after. " Not that in front of my home! ": this protestation is as old as street prostitution, and one can find examples since the Middle Ages; in English, there's an expression: " not in my backyard! ", in other words " let them go elsewhere to do it! " Of course, this only displaces the problem, but leaves the complaining to others. It's about the principle, well known by gardeners, which consists of sending moles to the neighbors to get rid of them.

New situation, in Strasbourg as in Paris: the residents demand that the clients be punished, despite that in the eyes of the law, there is no crime unless underage prostitutes are involved. Do they know that prostitution is legal in France and that only procuring, the sexual exploitation of someone else, is illegal? It seems obvious to them that if there were fewer clients, there would be fewer prostitutes hanging out along the streets waiting for them. They hope that fear of the police will discourage a part of the men that pay for "that". They have seen or read news stories about Sweden, the only country in Europe where " women buyers " risk a fine or a prison sentence: thanks to a law put into place in 1999 and which only obtained thirty-seven condemnations; street prostitution has effectively disappeared in Sweden.

So, should the clients of street prostitution be punished today in France? My response is no.

The differences in the mentalities between the two countries are considerable. Sexual education at school is fairly undeveloped in France, while it was introduced in Sweden starting in 1942 and it became obligatory in 1956, in all classes starting from elementary school. After a half-century of pedagogic explanations about the fact that sexual relations are an act of responsible adults, that it should be practiced with respect toward the body and with desire of your partner, that it's bad to pay to buy a body, the Swedish government decided that the time for repression had arrived. Neither warlike proclamations, nor the display of forces in the field: with two full-time policemen for the entire agglomeration of Stockholm (1 million inhabitants), the problem of visible prostitution was resolved in a few months.

The situation is very different in France. The same as driving too quickly or tossing out sexist remarks at passers-by, to pay a prostitute comes from the dominant culture and benefits from a generalized indulgence.

The wife herself, if she learns it (the majority of these " body buyers " are married or living with someone), console herself by telling herself that it's less dangerous for the couple than a lasting relationship. To pay one or several " girls " is part of macho rituals, like stag parties the night before a wedding, the " third half-time " of athletes, or group outings of draftees (until the disappearance of obligatory military service in 1999). It is often in the army, the conservatory of traditional virility, that young men, under the influence of peer pressure, started to pay for " that ".

In the United Kingdom, the press denounces political men who have gone to prostitutes; they are also dishonored and their career is ruined. None of that in France where, if it became known, nothing would appear in the press; at worse, the man in question appears as a " horny bastard ", which in no way tarnishes his reputation.

French political leaders are very reluctant to discuss the dangerous subject of prostitution in public. For centuries and despite international texts ratified by our country, the State assigns a minimum of means in the battle against what is however officially qualified as a " social scourge " : for the prevention and reinsertion, they unload the responsibility on associations which do a tremendous unpaid service ; concerning repression, the Central Repression Office of the Treaty of Human Beings numbers eighteen civil servants, while the number of prostitutes in France is estimated at twenty thousand, of which the majority are controlled by organized crime. Finally, there is still no wide-ranging research on the behavior and the mentality of millions of men who pay for " that ".

Of course, police services have dismantled several networks of pimps; of course, legislative texts have recently been adopted: in 1994, the penalisation of clients of underage prostitutes abroad; in 2002, the penalisation of the same in France. Nevertheless, in April 2002, the first sentence of a man having sexually used a Romanian child near porte Dauphine in Paris received a two-month suspended prison sentence. And worse, as nothing is in place to help the victims, the child was returned to the same place to wait for new clients.

The clients: what a positive word ! In Sweden, to designate these men, they have used a pejorative term for a long time (which translates into French as morue). It is one of the elements which prove the awareness in Swedish public opinion of the inadmissible nature of prostitution with regard to human rights. That is why I propose calling these buyers of human meat viandards.

Today in France, it would be too radical a change to punish them. How could we abruptly pass from a situation of hypocritical tolerance, even complacency, to a policy of repression? It would first be necessary to lead a tremendous campaign of education and prevention, to develop sexual education in schools, to teach young men that " to pay for that is bad ". We are far from the France of 2002, where the fact of buying the sexual availability of another human being is largely accepted and seems to be a human right.

Florence Montreynaud



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