French Whores Fight Back.

Posted on October 13, 2013

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In the English speaking world we have a view of France as somewhere that takes a liberal view of sex, where the erotic is celebrated and frankly, anything goes.  Like all stereotypes it is based more on our ideas about our own country and othering than any reality. This disconnect is no more apparent than in the treatment of sex workers and the laws they are facing.  As in  Ireland a coalition of carceral feminists. those morally opposed to sex work and anti immigration lobbyists have combined in an unholy and dangerous alliance.

We are honoured to  interview  Morgane Merteuil, General Secretary of STRASS, the french union of sexworkers, who are fighting against laws that will not only criminalize sex work, but target migrants, make checking forums for alerts illegal and further stigmatize sex workers.

EW: What is the current law in France on sex work?

Morgane:  In France we are in an officially “abolitionist system” but actually, the laws are already prohibitionist,  it is legal to sell sex, but, soliciting in the streets is forbidden, and the “wide” definition of pimping criminalize third parties, and also, for exemple sexworkers who work together…  

EW: Can you sum up the proposed new law and how it will harm sex workers?

Morgane:  The new law is”to fight the prostitutional system”; France wants to follow the Swedish model, so it includes the criminalization of clients. They purpose in exchange to decriminalize soliciting, but if they criminalize clients, this will not make any progress… that we have to work hidden because WE are criminalized, or because clients are, it is the same : we have to get hidden, and so work in more dangerous conditions, far from the city centers, and then we risk more violence and precariousness, far from the structures and organizations who can provide us services, and who are particularly useful for sexworkers who are in situations of exploitations for example… 

The law also proposes to fight actively the websites on which we put our ads, then if the sites close we’ll have to find other ones, and be more discreet; it’s already difficult to add in France because websites are considered as pimps, so we can’t really say on our ad which services we provide and for what price, which make the relations with potential clients sometimes hard … 

So the whole bill proposes  some really hard repressive measures, and we even don’t have any social ones on exchange… well… we have some … “jokes” measures …. for example, all the help purposed to migrant sexworkers who are victim of exploitation is conditional on  stopping sexwork, but they only give them a 6 month authorization for being in the territory, so people affected by these problems won’t find a decent job with those restrictions, so they will probably continue to do sexwork, and then loose their authorization…

They also make the help conditional on working with  an “agreed organization”; Of course we know STRASS or generally organization which promote sexworkers rights won’t be one of them; only abolitionist organization then will have funds to “help people to stop sexwork”… 

There is also a laughable example : The article about the students who do sexwork; in this one we learn that if students do sexwork, it is because they don’t have the consciousness that this is “prostitution”; so the solution is to add lessons about the “objectification of the body” at school ! Of course they don’t even write a word about student’s precariousness, privatization of the universities, etc… 

I won’t talk about ALL the law, but you see the spirit … 

Indeed the spirit of the law seems clear to us, harm reduction is not even the cloak which they hide their whorephobia behind, migrants are assumed to need re education by abolitionist groups, students are assumed not to know what sex work is. The proposed law is about making sex work harder, more dangerous and more stigmatized, as those in power morally disapprove of it, not from a religious grounds, as Morgane explains but because it offends second wave radical feminist sensibilities. Entitled strengthening the fight against prostitution this law is aimed at sex workers, it seems the gloves are off, and we are the targets.

EW: What is the influence of the Catholic Church?

Morgane:  I think it is not very strong; the biggest abolitionist organization is linked to the Church, but even they  use  feminist rhetoric; Actually it would almost be helpful for us if they were more linked to the Catholic movement, but you know, they already have so much to do with the same sex marriage and the “gender theory” they just discovered in the last months that they arent really interested in sexwork issues… 

EW: Who else is supporting the proposals? How would you describe French feminism?

Morgane: The law is supported by the most visible part of the feminist movement, and so by lots of leftist activists and politicians, as they want to prove that they are feminist, then they follow the visible feminist ideas… 

The French feminist movement  is really a “state feminism” : privileged white cis women who think that state will save the poor women who are not like them, so that they have to get jobs in the state… 

The Right  are conservative upon this subject : sexwork avoids rapes, we have to open again brothels, and fight against migrant sexworkers… but as the law, proposed by Socialist MPs, only purposes a prohibitionist approach,  they will probably get the  support of right wing parties.

EW: France has famously banned the Niqab, given tensions over women of colour expressing their identity do you think the proposals on migrant women are inspired by racism and anti immigration beliefs?

Morgane:  YES I think so ! I think that, generally, the abolitionist way of thinking is racist, sexist and classist, as it considers women, and especially non-white and/or poor women, as sub-humans who need to be told what is good for them  or need to go back to their countries  which is always better than doing sexwork here… I think they mixed “alienation” and “oppression”, thinking that the more you are oppressed, then the more you don’t know what is good for you, and this confusion also helps anti-social approaches.

EW: Are sex workers rights groups being invited to participate/give evidence?

Morgane : For this law, not at all. We are sometimes invited to participate, but this is more because if they don’t, we will make demonstrations, street actions, etc… so they invite us, and then what we say is not taken into account 

Over and over again this happens, laws are made about sex work, that will directly affect our lives and put us in more danger, and the prohibitionists are so afraid of the truth they will not even invite sex workers to give evidence. It is as if they know there is no support for their laws other than a wicked appeal to whorephobia and hatred.

EW: Is there anything you would like to add?

Morgane: Maybe to encourage sexworkers who are in countries where sexwork is less criminalized to continue to fight, and do not think that because there situation is not as bad as in France or Sweden or any prohibitionist countries, then it’s okay for them; because we know that, for example, the European Women Lobby won’t stop after making France adopt the Swedish model; so, the most earlier you can begin to fight against it, and generally for a decriminalization of sexwork, the better you have a chance to avoid it.

Morgane is right, the European Womens Lobby is on a moral crusade against sex work, and the deaths of sex workers are a price they are willing to pay. They will not invite sex workers to their events and are peddling lies to the MEPs who support them. MEPs who are equally unwilling to engage with any sex workers. This is a disaster for French sex workers, and will lead to tragedies like the death of Jasmine, but it is also a warning to all of us. If we do not stand with our French sisters and brothers we can be sure we will be next in line.

 

 

Please share this with your networks, write to MEPs, let people know that despite the best attempts of the Europena Womens LObby and others who oppose harm reduction the citizens of Europe, and the world, do care about sex workers, do care about laws that will endanger them, and stand with us to say, NOT IN MY NAME.