There is no doubt that today, a great number of prostitutes have no free choice. But does this truth justify the drive to prohibit the whole activity? What if this debate is hiding another?

On the 6th April, the long legal journey of the proposition for a law «to reinforce the fight against the system of prostitution» [1] finally reached its terminus. Introduced in October 2013, it was subjected to three debates and three votes in both Parliamentary assemblies. It was finally adopted by the National Assembly, which has the last word in case of a disagreement with the Senate. The law thus concludes a political desire expressed in 2011 by the French Socialist Party [2]. The disagreement between the Chamber and the Senate concerned the question of the penalisation of clients – the majority of deputies were in favour of the measure, while the majority of senators were not. «Buying the sexual act» [3] is sanctioned by a maximum fine of 1,500 Euros. In the case of repeat offences, the fine may rise to 3,750 Euros.

Introducing doublethink into law

By abrogating the offence of soliciting, and not just the offence of «passive soliciting» established by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2003, the law recognises that the activity of prostitution is legal. However, at the same time, it treats the buying of sexual acts as a legal offence, in other words an activity which is systematically illegal. Thus, the act of prostitution, an activity which has been recognised as legal, generates an act which is legally punishable, that of using the services of a prostitute.

The denial of the opposition of these two elements creates a cleavage in the law, by forcing the co-existence of two contradictory affirmations which are juxtaposed, but which cancel one another out. This procedure was demonstrated by Orwell in his definition of «doublethink». It consists of «simultaneously holding two opinions which are mutually contradictory, and believing both». The absurdity of the lack of a connection between two contradictory statements is an attack on the logical foundations of language. The operation fragments the subject, and renders her incapable of reacting to the nonsensical nature of what is said compared with what is shown.

In this way, the law produces two incompatible propositions in parallel, two statements which logically exclude one another, but which are held together by the will of the government, which considers that a prostitute is by definition a victim. The prostitute thus becomes a person who is bereft of speech, and to whom the power «lends» its voice. She becomes the object of the morality of power.

The procedure of doublethink annihilates the function of the law, which is to establish clear and applicable rules in order to limit the random aspects of power. It therefore accepts that the government possesses absolute knowledge, and institutes a moral law which is an expression of the superego, based not on reason, but on values, that of the love owed to the victim.

Thus the status of natural victim - the «infans» - used to define the prostitute in fact serves the government. It allows the government to speak in her place, by affirming that it knows better than she does where her real interests lie. The status of victim excludes these women from the world of language. It does not allow them to oppose their own individual interests to the universal image of women, of which power is the representative.

It allows the government, in the name of the defence of prostitutes, to promote legislation which is rejected by those it is supposed to protect. However, their opposition to the penalisation of clients is also assumed by their organisations, including the collective Droits et Prostitution (Rights and Prostitution) the main French organisation created by and representing sex workers, both male and female.

A law «to teach about love and gender relations»

The text, inspired by the Swedish experiment which has been penalising clients since 1999, also creates a complementary penalty in the form of a «training course for the awareness of the conditions of prostitution».

This last point is absolutely in phase with the motivations already expressed during the deposition of an early proposition for the law at the end of 2011. The parliamentarians had at that time insisted on the educational character of their approach, complementing the fine with an obligatory term in a «clients’ school», in order to educate them, in the name of the defence of prostitutes, about «health and gender relations». So the deputies, called upon by all the group presidents, from both the left and the right, officially affirmed «the abolitionist position of France». They considered that «prostitution is exercised mainly by women, and that their clients are almost exclusively men, which contravenes the principle of equality between the sexes».

This position is also the foundation of the present law. It refers to the «Swedish model» by making prostitution a gender issue, stating that «there is no equality possible between men and women as long as a man can rent or buy a woman’s body». Thus, Inger Segestrom, deputy and president of the Federation of Swedish Social-Democrat Women at the time, declared on the site - «It is our aim to declare that society does not admit that a man may buy a woman for his own pleasure. This has little to do with sexuality. It is a question of power and equality».

The transfer

The declaration by Inger Segestrom, which takes the form of a denial, is particularly interesting. It raises the problem by denying it. It is clearly the will of our governments to control sexuality and produce other models of pleasure, under cover of the aim of promoting the equality of the sexes.

What can be the meaning of a law which claims to combat street prostitution, yet allows the subsistence and even the development of other less visible forms of prostitution, such as escort girls or Internet prostitution? Street prostitution is targeted because it makes visible a reality opposed to the image of women represented and promoted by political power. The law therefore takes its place in the current of post-modernism, in a process of the erasure of the body in order to ensure the reign of the icon and the dematerialisation of reality.

Pretending to eradicate prostitution by punishing the client, this law claims to be abolitionist. By attacking its most visible manifestation, street prostitution, it reveals itself as being, in fact, prohibitionist. Prohibition, contrary to abolition, does not exclude its object, but denies it. It transfers prostitution from the visible to the invisible. By the same token, this law will suppress any limit to the exploitation of these women. Prostitutes will be herded into a zone sheltered from visibility, where violence will be able to express itself without hindrance.

A moral law

For the citizenry, the result of this legislation will be to allow the suspension of reality. If we decide not to see it, prostitution will no longer exist.

The object of the text is to eliminate «a place», and not prostitution itself. This will have a double consequence. First of all, the law will no longer function in order to organise the exterior, but to re-model the interior. The law will exist not to be respected, but to be constantly violated in fear and guilt. Instead of regulating physical pleasure, this law imposes an order to take pleasure in the image of human dignity. It is above all the institution of a super-ego, a producer of values.

Secondly, since it no longer occupies a well-defined site, prostitution will spread to all of the public space. The Swedish model, which the «abolitionist» deputies use as the foundation for their proposition to penalise clients, is enlightening. In Sweden, street prostitution has indeed diminished by half, but other hidden sites for priced sex, like massage parlours and various other clubs, are still in activity.

Above all, a major part of the prostitution market is now present on the Internet. This recent support enables an extension of prostitution to all of society, no longer limited to a part of the body itself, but to its image. Potential clients can now make contact with young people through chat forums.

This law, with its feminist accents, but which stifles the voices of real women, is in fact in service of the post-modern form of power, an attractive machine incarnated by the figure of the «Symbolic Mother», which is neither male nor female, but the totalitarian «whole» which lacks nothing. This figure of the cruel mother, transmitted by the fairy tales of the oral tradition, is particularly opposed to the feminine, since the masculine has already been destroyed by early modernity. In her relationship with the client, the independent prostitute, on the contrary, occupies a position which allows her to avoid being entirely subjected to this order, and enjoying a genuine control over her own reality. It is this feminine subversion which is under attack.

Pete Kimberley

[2« La prostitution et l’image de la Femme », par Tülay Umay, Réseau Voltaire, 29th July 2011.

[3«The fact of soliciting, accepting or obtaining relations of a sexual nature from a person who works as a prostitute, including in an occasional manner, in exchange for a remuneration, a promise of remuneration, the supply of a beneficial advantage or the promise of such, is punishable by the fine corresponding to offences of the Fifth Category» (future article 611-1 of the Code Pénal).