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Points of View > The eyes of Kaa

(Prostitution, figures, media, facts, fiction: how to figure it all out?)

Yves Lambert

This article was first published in the n°12 news report of réseau Ac.Sé in May 2007


40.000 student prostitutes: fact or fiction?

In an article published October 30, 2006, entitled "Prostitution Spreading to University Classrooms", the French newspaper Le Figaro claims that "certain [students] 'work' in hostess bars or in escort girl agencies. Others use the Internet to propose their services as masseuses or as cleaning women dressed in French maid's costume. The boldest take to the streets of Paris, Lyon, Montpellier and even Brussels. The subject is sensitive, but the students can also fall into prostitution. To pay their rent, finance their studies or even "earn" some spending money; regularly or from time to time; from disadvantaged backgrounds or not...

There seem to be increasing numbers of young women exchanging their body for money." While admitting that "no study has been done on the subject", the journalist Jean-Marc Philibert reports that, according to the union SUD-Etudiant, at least "40.000 students are prostituting themselves, a massive majority of girls, meaning close to one student in 57." The phenomenon is attributed to the "pauperization of students, but also to an increasingly consumerist vision of society."

Cited in the article, Guillaume Houzel, the president of the Counsel of Student Life Observatory (OVE - Observatoire de la Vie Etudiante), confirms the existence of the phenomenon: "more than 45.000 students live today in a situation of tremendous poverty and 225.000 have difficulty financing their studies.This constitutes a considerable reservoir of candidates ready to do anything to earn a bit of money. Without talking about those that are just attracted by luxury and glamour." [read here the OVE press release]

The Paris Vice Squad (BRP - brigade de répression du proxénétisme) indicates that the "phenomenon (…) has always existed." OCRETH(1) isn't idle and reports that "student prostitution is more of an individual and occasional activity, (…) a very discreet phenomenon and difficult to quantify which, de plus, isn't illegal" and the BRP makes clear that, on the Internet, "Fake students are perhaps even more numerous than real. (...) During 2004, the vice squad was thus able to dismantle a network of young Moroccans, fake students but real prostitutes.They all had their student ID cards. That was what specifically permitted them to obtain a residence permit. But they very likely didn't spend much time at the university..."

Let's summarize: according to the article written by Jean-Marc Philibert, student prostitution is an old phenomenon (which would contradict the title of the article but what's one more "approximation"); prostitutes working via the Internet claiming to be students (but the police indicates that this would be more often false than true); their socio-economic conditions would explain the passage into prostitution of the students (overused cliché); they are not only on the Internet but also in the streets, in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier and even Brussels; student prostitutes would number 40.000, largely girls. All this in the absence of any studies: congratulation, it's great ...

Contacted by telephone and questioned about their sources, the SUD-Etudiant union hides first behind the Dauriac report: given to Minister Claude Allègre in 2000, this report on the precariousness of students calculates as 100.000 the number of students living below the poverty level, nothing new. Especially, and it's a bit embarrassing, there is not a single mention of alleged student prostitution. Confronted with this evidence, the union gets confused in its explanations and admits to no longer remembering who the source is …

And with reason, let's repeat: there is no study on the subject. Jean-Marc Philibert must have known, he still wrote an article based on nothing and tossed out a number that made the rounds of news rooms(2) and sprits. For many, France therefore has 40.000 student prostitutes.

Fact or fiction? Fiction.

40.000 prostitutes trafficked during the 2006 Football World Cup

These supposed 40.000 students prostituted in France resonate like a strange echo of the 40.000 prostitutes who were supposedly imported by force to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.

January 25, 2006: the association Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) launched an international campaign called "buying sex is not a sport", a petition which ultimately got 134.373 signatures, including several football and show business stars(3). The text of the petition written in several languages indicates that "we estimate at 40.000 the number of women 'imported' from Central and Eastern Europe to Germany to 'sexually serve' approximately three million spectators - mostly men."

This campaign to raise public awareness against prostitution, forced prostitution and human trafficking was relatively quickly officially supported by the German Football Federation (DFB). "Unfortunately, major events such as the football World Cup lead to an increase of this scandalous behavior", declared Theo Zwanziger, the co-president of the DFB, during a press conference(4). Even more incredibly, the European parliament, by a resolution dated 15 March 2006, which considers that the traffic of vulnerable women and children for sexual exploitation constitutes one of the worst violations of human rights, pleads in favor of transnational cooperation, congratulates itself on the campaign "buying sex is not a sport" supported by the National Counsel of German Women and consequently invites the member States of the Union, Germany, the International Olympic Committee and athletic associations to vigorously denounce human trafficking and forced prostitution. Faced with pressure from non-governmental organisations, the Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was forced to reaffirm that there was no prostitution in and around stadiums. The Vatican, which is rarely interested in events concerning football, released an uncharacteristic communiqué denouncing an event where one can pay the same price for a prostitute as for a ticket to a football match.

Rarely has a campaign received such strong support from civil, athletic, political and religious groups. Many websites refer to it and the petition circulates from email inbox to email inbox: who didn't receive it?

To get an idea, 40.000 women transported against their will represents the equivalent of a convoy of 1.600 buses which, supposing they are driving one after the other, respecting the length of a bus between each other, would create a line 38 kilometers long. Obviously, it wouldn't go by unnoticed.

According to the news show "Envoyé Spécial" shown May 18, 2006 on France 2, so before the World Cup, none of the investigations by journalists covering the question among German police authorities responsible for fighting against human trafficking, associations, prostitutes working at the time of the investigation in Berlin, certain managers of Eros Centers, etc., permitted the confirmation of this information or to understand how the enormous figure of 40.000 women advanced by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women had been evaluated.

Presented by the media as "the World Cup of sex and prostitution", the German World Cup was finally much tamer than predicted. At Pascha, self-proclaimed to be the biggest brothel in Europe and denounced by non-governmental organizations fighting against prostitution, the owner, Armin Lobscheid, cited in the newspaper Libération on July 6, 2006, explained that his establishment gradually emptied with the end of the World Cup and declared that "all the prostitutes claim to live in a Schengen member country". His activity is controlled as part of German regulations. In the same article, a spokesperson for the Cologne police affirms that "the figure of 40.000 prostitutes is absolutely nonsense. According to the checks that we made during the competition, there was no significant increase in the number of prostitutes working in the city and the surrounding towns. We are very nearly in the same situation as before the World Cup."

Fact or fiction? Fiction.

The question of human trafficking in general and trafficking specifically for sexual exploitation doesn't need this type of 'fiction': the phenomenon is already grave and massive enough as is. Only associations who claim to help trafficked people advance such fallacious information, creating such uproar that can only disturb professionals who work seriously in the field; police, sheriffs, magistrates, social workers …

40.000 Gang Rapes?

The preceding two examples resemble the work of sociologist Laurent Mucchielli, head of research at the CNRS, professor at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, director of the CESDIP(5), who works notably on juvenile delinquency and interpersonal violence.

He published a research paper born of an interrogation, confronted with an intense and sudden media attention to what journalists, appropriating a slang expression, called "gang bangs (tournantes)". The annual count of the frequency of occurrences of the expression "gang rape" in the headline of the dispatches of the news agency Agence France Presse (major source of information for all media) gives prominence to the phenomenon. While from 1990 to 2000, gang rapes were only mentioned from 1 to 7 times (for an average of 4 per year), in 2001 the expression "gang rapes" as well as the new expression, "gang bangs", appeared a total of 50 times. The phenomenon declines in 2002 with 32 occurrences, then only 23 in 2003, and it more or less disappears in 2004.

The analysis of the content of press articles points to a dominant version presenting this phenomenon as largely new, growing fast and specific to a given place and population: "kids in the projects", meaning minors "born of immigrant origin" (first generation). This vision was, in effect, part of the larger scope of the debate on "insecurity" and "the (troubled) suburbs", amplified again by the theme of violence against women and the fear of Islam. This promotion through the media appears as well in the context of the 2001 and 2002 electoral campaigns, focused on the theme of "insecurity".

Laurent Mucchielli thus sought to discover more. Along with a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the media treatment of "gang bangs", he first undertook the gathering of historical documents, then analyzed available statistics, and finally scrutinized about twenty judiciary files for cases judged during the last ten years (1994-2003) in the Paris region, in criminal courts (under the charge of "group rapes") and in correctional court (under the charge "group sexual aggressions").

Taking these two analyses together (about media treatment and about the phenomenon itself) shows that there is no correlation between media treatment and judicial statistical reality, largely shrinking … Laurent Mucchielli contests the newness of the phenomenon as much as his aggravation and refutes, citing proof, the fundamental link made between group rapes, North African origin, and the Muslim religion. The author shows that the media staging of "gang bangs" contributes, in reality, to a growing fear and a rejection of young French men born of North African origin and a contestable "banalisation" of the interpretation of economic and social problems into "cultural" even "ethnic" terms.

Fiction once again.

Note that at the height of the media movement denounced by Laurent Muchielli, Sohane Benziane is burned alive on October 4, 2002 in Vitry-sur-Seine by her ex-boyfriend, 19 years old at the time: the event reinforces media enthusiasm and … gives birth to the association Ni putes ni soumises (NPNS - Neither whores nor submissive) created in April 2003, whose very existence, the comments and objectives reinforced even more by the movement, give the association an even greater credibility. Finally, Samira Bellil, sponsor of NPNS, publishes Dans l'enfer des tournantes (In the Hell of Gang Bangs) published by Gallimard, May 20, 2003(6).

If we follow the reasoning of Laurent Muchielli and his conclusions, the action of Ni putes ni soumises, far from efficiently combatting violence against "women in the troubled suburbs" (to use the terms held dear by NPNS and its president Fadela Amara, for whom the association was the instrument of her paradoxical career), fed racism and discrimination targeting youths born of immigrant origins.

Logical …

In the three cases cited here during a period of five years (2001-2006), we are dealing with questions full of sexuality and of transgression: these two magic ingredients nested per se at the very base of the themes of prostitution or of "gang bangs" form an object of fascination, in the literally hypnotic use of the word(7) : their use, meant for the uninformed, abolishes all freewill and, by extension, all critical thought.

The press and the media, who all too often have the eyes of Kaa(8), know it well and all too often ignore ethical reflection about their practices. This fascination visibly blocks all serious examination of information and then this information starts to make the rounds everywhere, exactly like a rumor does, without anyone - or almost - questioning the origin, even though certain figures seem completely nonsense … if we only reflected a bit, and that's where we do damage: we hardly reflect at all.

The machine functions even better since the causes or the motives rest upon generally accepted clichés, which aren't deeply questioned since they seem so obvious: socio-economical conditions explain the passage into prostitution; therefore that students in precarious situations become prostitutes (en masse) seems logical; Germany is the kingdom of regulated brothels, therefore that the 2006 football World Cup becomes a place of sexual venality which must "import" tens of thousands of prostitutes to satisfy millions of supporters seems logical; minors "born of immigrant origin" only respect veiled girls that "behave properly" and assume that all others are whores, therefore that they must be gang rapists seems logical.

We could have added to this famous and terrible list, the media's enthusiasm which, in 2003 in Toulouse, giving blind faith to the slanderous remarks of the ex-prostitutes "Patricia" et "Fanny" and their transvestite friend Djamel, leading to the suspicion of police officers, magistrates and politicians (including the public prosecutor, his ex-assistant financial public prosecutor, the mayor Dominique Baudis): accused of rape during "private evenings" and even the murder of prostitutes supplied by the serial killer, Patrice Alègre, whom they supposedly protected. Their names were shamelessly thrown to the lions(9) , … with the terrifying personal disasters that this affair generated.

Police, magistrates and politicians: all corrupt, no? Logical(10).


1 Office Central de Répression de la Traite des Etres Humains. [back]
2 Various media (including Paris-Match, for example) have contacted us to question this supposed phenomenon and to ask us to confirm these predicated figures! [back]
3 Consultable here, list of included signatures:http://catwepetition.ouvaton.org/ [back]
4 Libération dated 8 March 2006. [back]
5 Centre de Recherches Sociologiques sur le Droit et les Institutions Pénales. [back]
6 She died of cancer in 2004. [back]
7 Le Petit Littré defines the word "fascination": faculté de fasciner leur proie qu'on attribue à certains animaux ; puissance que les adeptes du magnétisme prétendent exercer sur les personnes soumises à leurs opérations (ability to fascinate their prey that is attributed to certain animals; force that practitioners of magnetism claim to have over people subjected to their tactics).[back]
8 The python which fascinates and hypnotizes Mowgli the mancub in the Disney cartoon, Jungle Book. [back]
9 The innocence of all these people was ultimately recognized. [back]
10 We would like to point out that while "Patricia" et "Fanny" were condemned for libel concerning the mayor of Toulouse and the ex-assistant financial public prosecutor, La Dépêche du Midi, the media's source in the second Alègre affair with Le Figaro, were condemned for libel against the then assistant public prosecutor. The director of the daily regional publication and the journalist, author of the incriminating article, were condemned to a 2.000 euro fine each and 1.500 euros together for legal fees. [back]

The figures concerning student prostitution.

Press release January 24, 2008 of the Student Life Observatory (Observatoire de la Vie Etudiante/OVE) reacting to the media wave surrounding the publication in January 2007 of two works about student prostitution.

Even if it is very likely that certain students prostitute themselves, no referenced study on student prostitution exists to prove this fact. The OVE has never conducted a study on this phenomenon which seems much less overwhelming than certain journalists have written.
So there is no reliable data currently available. The Interior Ministry itself admits that the figures it has concerning prostitution in general should be "handled with care."

As far as student poverty is concerned, which is of course a totally different subject; it has proven to have remained relatively stable over the years. The impoverished are fairly uncommon among students, because it is rare that children from poor families have the opportunity to go to university. However, a relatively large portion of students (20%) live in precarious conditions, often because they must also work a lot of hours at a job at the same time as they are studying, which proves detrimental to the success of their university education. Students in a situation of deep and lasting poverty only represent 1,5% of all students. Finally, it is obvious that students, like all other households, are suffering from reduced purchasing power, especially concerning housing costs.

In this manner, the work of the OVE corroborates and details all of the studies of the social situation of students but nothing links these results to student prostitution. [back]

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home l domestic violence | rape and sexual abuse | harassment | prostitution | homosexuals | birth control and abortion
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