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Is DSK trial bad news for French prostitutes?

Ben McPartland · 12 Feb 2015, 13:21

Published: 12 Feb 2015 13:21 GMT+01:00

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The DSK pimping trial has catapulted the divisive row over whether to criminalize prostitution in France back into the limelight.

Last year a French bill that proposed hitting clients of prostitutes with heavy fines was pulled at the last minute by a Senate committee.

But as the sordid details of sex parties and prostitutes being flown to America as “gifts” emerged from the DSK trial this week, it was announced that the law will go back before the senate at the end of March.

Sex workers, who opposed the bill claiming it will make their lives more dangerous, fear the reaction to the trial in Lille will see the law passed at a second attempt.

"They will use what has come out at this trial and what DSK did and there will be more pressure to pass the bill,” Morgane Merteuil, from the sex workers union Strass, tells The Local

But Merteuil says most clients of sex workers are not like DSK and the “carnage” at the sex orgies described in the trial is not really what working as a prostitute is about.

She points to the graphic testimony from a prostitute named Jade, who told the court that DSK continued to carry out an “unnatural” sexual act with her despite the fact he could see she was in tears. The ex-IMF chief refuted this accusation.

At one point in the trial it emerged DSK referred to prostitutes as "equipment" and admitted he liked his sex "rougher than the average man".

“But the problem with DSK is that he broke the conditions of being a client. Most clients respect the conditions of sex workers, but he didn’t,” Merteuil said.

“They will use DSK to say we need to criminalize prostitution, but that's wrong. That’s basically saying all clients are like him, but they are not.

“I feel nothing but disgust when I think of him,” she said.

During Thursday’s hearing Bernard Lemettre, from the group Mouvement du Nid, which supports those involved in sex work, but is against prostitution, told the court: “We have to be careful with any kind of discourse that makes out that people have a choice about becoming a prostitute.”

While the high profile trial will give new ammunition to those who want prostitution abolished, Merteuil says it should instead make people focus on why sex-workers often live dangerous lives.

“The problem is this trial is focusing only on pimping, it doesn't look at why these prostitutes are more vulnerable to becoming victims of violence,” she said.

“Abolitionist groups never separate clients from rapists, they just lump them together,” she said.

“We are sex workers and they just consider us lobbyists for pimps.”

Story continues below…

Strass says they have numerous human rights groups and women’s rights organizations on their side backing their call for the government to scrap the proposal to penalize clients with heavy fines.

“Penalizing clients will simply enhance the dangers they face. Sex workers’ incomes will be affected and they will end up taking risks and leaving them more vulnerable to violence and exploitation,” she said.

"Prostitutes are vulnerable, they are stigmatized because there is a criminal element to their trade. The DSK trial will only enhance that view," she said.

Not everyone agrees however, not least the members of Femen, who staged one of their usual topless protests as DSK arrived at court this week.

Inna Shevchenko the group's leader told The Local that the DSK trial has revealed the "disgusting nature" of the sex industry.

She says she wants society to take the trial as a lesson that "the sex industry is not about pleasure and money for men but violence and suffering for women".
She added that it shouldn't be about "shaming the political elite", rather "fighting the romanticization of the sex industry in France that is destroying so many people's futures".
"We have to fight. This affects women. The first step in this fight will be to criminalize not only a pimp but also a client as responsible for development of this inhumane industry, the sex industry."

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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