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Proud to be abolitionists

A caricature of abolitionism : our response to those who disparage us

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

January 2008, by Claudine Legardinier

In order to give a new lease of life to this age-long exploitation known as prostitution, those who defend it, favouring the legalization of the "trade" of prostitutes and procurers, have constructed an ideological discourse likening it to modernity and emancipation and dismissing all criticism of the moral elements involved. Many intellectuals, both men and women, are currently the zealous protagonists of this sphere of influence supposedly reflecting the wishes of an oppressed minority, going so far as to openly deny the realities of prostitution.
You will find below a sample of their arguments together with our responses.

- «You wish to prohibit prostitution»

Abolitionism has never wished to prohibit prostitution. It has considered prohibition as hypocritical and asserted its refusal of the discriminatory measures inflicted on prostitutes.

It is far more the incessant regulations, though they are today presented in a libertarian or “tolerant” way, which lead to a police system. It is supposed to control and pursue all those, thereby the immense majority (as proved by the German and Dutch experiments), who refuse to register.

It is this which, by legalizing allegedly free prostitution in the name of pragmatism and the struggle against the white slave trade, in fact results in the tracking down of foreigners in irregular situations, who are then to be deported.

- «You are only aware of the sordid street corner prostitution»

More and more, the prostitutes who contact us come from "hostess bars", massage salons or prostitution via internet, including "escort girls". Student prostitution, "luxury" prostitution, masculine or transgenic prostitution, we are aware of practically all the existing forms of prostitution. The personal accounts we publish make this evident.

- «Abolitionism is a form of racism»

A new stage in the verbal escalation of certain minor groups in defence of prostitution. It is then our turn to wonder how these accusers can refuse to see the deeply sexist, racialist, segregationist dimension of this institution, ever ready to convert into cash the bodies of the most vulnerable women, everywhere on the planet, priority being given to those coming from countries bled white and from ethnic minorities.

What could be more profitable than poverty for this market ready to offer to the well-to-do the possibility of paying for what others are obliged "to sell" in order to survive ? What could be more exciting than the colonialist stereotypes (African, "mad about sex" ; Asiatic, "so docile"...), the powerful driving force encouraging "consumption" ?

The indignation of our assailants is apparently selective !

- «You talk about abolishing prostitution whereas, in fact, you are aiming at abolishing the prostitutes»

Because we refuse prostitution, we are apparently suspected of wishing to eliminate those who are prostituted. Since when have those who fought for the abolishment of child labour been accused of being against children?

To say that the development of a human being requires a set of conditions which are not satisfied in prostitution, is simply an attempt to strive to protect humanistic values rather than reducing a person to the simple state of a production tool solely capacitated to respond to a request. The accusation is once more based on the intention to maintain a state of confusion.

Our combat against prostitution has never been a combat against the prostitutes themselves whom the Mouvement du Nid listens to and accompanies daily. We are for those prostituted, we stand beside them, but against prostitution.

- «By refusing to recognize the profession of the persons prostituted, it is you who commit acts of violence against them, since you are the cause of their stigmatization»

By denouncing prostitution, the reification which it induces, we are apparently responsible for the violence or stigmata which weigh heavy on them. Here there is considerable confusion between the moon and the finger pointing it out. Far from being due to us, is the stigmatization not rather intensified by the regulation specialists who, having introduced the obligation to be registered in order to obtain a work contract, in fact end up in classifying them as "sex workers" (which is in fact refused by the majority of prostitutes)?

By refusing legalization of the profession, which would rid public opinion of its guilt, to be replaced by indifference, we maintain our concern for the path they have taken, for the logic which led them to prostitution and our refusal of their branding and their parking, whatever the shapes and forms. Each of these women has a right to another future and has other abilities.

Yes, abolishment is a demand : the contrary of resignation, which is so easily accepted on the bases of the pragmatism alibi, the "safe investment" of those who have lost all hope of transforming society to ensure more justice.

- «You speak on behalf of the prostitutes»

The Mouvement du Nid bases its position, on the contrary, on the words of the prostitutes themselves, heard everyday in prostitution areas or in our committee rooms. It is on the bases of their experience, revealing ever-present violence that the Mouvement du Nid founded its fundamental critique of the prostitution system.

The “Mouvement du Nid” knows to what extent a vast majority of these women are deprived of the right to speak, paralyzed by shame and the social contempt with which they are considered.

The words of certain privileged persons, who vaunt the easing of restrictions on the "market" and assume the right to speak in the name of all, at the present time widely relayed by the media, is welcomed by general opinion since it avoids all questioning, all feelings of guilt and fits the logics of individualism and profit. Used politically, by the "pro-prostitution" groups, this emotionally charged language, erected as the ultimate truth, is intended to intimidate us. We obviously have to hear it.

But is it forbidden to wonder if these persons are really able to force the analysis beyond the justification, entirely understandable on an individual basis, of what still remains their job? As far as we are concerned, we are fighting to obtain a right to speak for those who remain silent.

- «You are the champions of moral order, you are against sexual freedom»

Our combat is, on the contrary, aimed at liberty. It is directed against the logic of a society which proposes as ideal the consumption of objects and of other persons and imposes the marketing of all spheres of our lives : health, education, culture and henceforth human beings.

Far be it from us to wish to restore the vice squads; we are fighting against this ever-increasing marketing driven by a supposed sexual liberty. This battle alone will guarantee the liberty of all, whether woman or man, to dispose as they wish of their bodies and their sexuality, without being obliged to put it on the market to survive.

We are against a form of liberty which is solely that of the mighty, which makes use of those in dire distress.
What we are fighting against is not sexual freedom but its liquidation on grounds of free-trade and recuperation by a sub-contract. We never intervene in matters concerning solely the sexuality of couples in their private life.

But prostitution has nothing to do with private life : it is a commerce, a market, a social institution and it is this "whole" with which we disagree. Every attempt is made to confine us to "moral" questions, with a view to ensuring that we avoid tackling the true dimension of the debate, which is fundamentally political.

- «Your ideas on prostitution and pornography are similar to those of the extreme Right, you are fundamentalist Catholics»

Our association stems from the social Christianism, which as far back as the 19th century, led a combat in favour of working class labour conditions or against child labour. We are concerned by social justice. If we take a stand against the every day acceptance of pornographic chatter and prostitution, it is, in the first place, due to our respect for human rights faced with the many and various means of oppression.

What we propose is egalitarian and based on refusal to accept the sordid marketing of human beings. The extreme right-wingers condemn pornography? Maybe. But, in the same way as opposition to the US intervention in Iraq, such as that of Jean-Marie Le Pen, does not suffice to make you an ally of the Front National, we are poles apart from the “values” defended by the extreme Right. The latter, in fact, rejects not so much prostitution as those prostituted, whom they regard with great contempt. Their main concern is moral standards.
As for us, our concern for the equality of persons and the emancipation of women suffices to make us the determined adversaries of the fundamentalists, who, on a world-wide scale, reveal daily in what esteem they hold them.

- «You stigmatize the clients, whom you wish to publicly denounce»

We are against any method consisting in publishing the name or image of a man who has recourse to prostitution, exposing him to public vindication. On the other hand, we demand an end to the social leniency which authorizes men, with complete indifference, irresponsibility and contempt to indulge in the sexual exploitation of persons who are complete strangers to them.

When I eat a good steak, I don’t wonder whether the cow suffered ! replies a "client" to the film director Hubert Dubois, who questioned him on the prostitutes, victims of the "trade". We have nothing to add to that. Is it not time now for such men to assume their responsibilities, as currently required by international texts on this question ? Their behaviour harms others and has social consequences. It is for them that the procurers and traffickers organize "the market" by all the means at their disposal. Can they continue to ignore this situation ?

- «You wish to civilize masculine sexuality, you have a prescriptive conception of sexuality»

Is the confession in the accusation ? Could one speak of "uncivilized behaviour" in this context ? We, in any case, intend to call into question this old-fashioned belief — also indeed prescriptive — seeking to demonstrate that a society can only function correctly providing the male members are supplied with sexual solutions.

We question the universally adopted idea of a predatory desire, violent sexual requirements, supposedly irrepressible sexual urges authorizing the exploitation of others. When Robert Badinter pleads that he excused the obscure drives governing sexuality, we recall, for our part, that over a long period, rapists benefited from a certain social indulgence, because they were victims of these "drives"...

We could add, moreover that the prostitute clients are not always men, but sometimes men who have not yet evolved as regards their relation with women.

- «You victimize prostitutes»

It is current practice to draw attention, not to the facts denounced, but to those who denounce them, accusing them of every evil, above all if what they are concerned are acts of violence raising sexual questions, which are obviously disturbing. And thereby censuring our denunciations.

These accusations raise several questions : why don’t people consider that those who fight against racism victimize those who are subjected to it ? Why has the word "victim" become insulting and shameful ? For what reason should being the victim of robbery or rape constitute an indication of our personal character ? Should we take care to avoid denouncing cases of conjugal violence in order to avoid victimising the women concerned ?

Abolitionism considers prostitutes not as incapable persons, but as victims of a form of exploitation. This fact by no means diminishes their energy, their resistance, their capacities. Many of those we meet feel the need to be recognized as victims, they who feel so terribly guilty, in order to be able to reconstruct their lives. However, they are by no means to be considered solely as victims, reduced to bearing their oppression.

By various means of intimidation, we are above all prevented from denouncing the logics which produce domination relationships such as the prostitutional system. And care is taken to maintain the status quo as regards violence, exploitation, humiliation which are their day to day lot. For the greater profit of the procurers and the "pleasure" of the "clients".

- «You confuse prostitution and slave trade, which results in refusing the right to migration to foreign women»

The slave trade has always been one of the prostitution supply lines. At the present time, it is for political reasons — in order to clear the market of the so-called "free prostitution" — that the link between prostitution and slave trade has been carefully obliterated.

As long as prostitution remains legitimate, the traffickers will continue to devote themselves to supplying the "market" and renewing the "merchandise" proposed, ever younger and more exotic. The anti-slave trade policies, which can result in reducing migratory possibilities, have nothing to do with us. Far from us the idea of Europe as a fortress closed to the destitute. However, we could never accept a right to migration which would simply mask a "right" to sexual slavery granted to the affluent.

- «You are a party to the Sarkozy law [LSI]»

We have consistently declared, and re-declared, our total opposition to all repressive measures against prostitutes. In our opinion, repression — and prevention — should be applied to those who benefit from the system : those for whom it is a source of financial profit, the procurers and profiteers and those who satisfy their sexual and domination urges, the "clients", whom we should prefer to call the "prostituters".

In no case, against those, who, owing to distress, precarity, or vulnerability (social, economic, cultural, psychological, ethnical) have resorted to prostitution.

- «By attacking the clients, you seek to deprive the prostitutes of their revenues»

No profound social change can take place without distressing turning points. The end of apartheid led to the collapse of certain black merchants, deprived of customers now free to use the white merchants shops. Is this a reason to regret the abolition ? In another connection, the tobacco dealers complain about the drop in cigarette sales. So, do we have to encourage tobacco consumption ?

These examples show that the problem does not reside in the battle against harmful phenomena but in the fact that people are inadequately prepared for such events and left to their own devices. The penalization of prostitution clients is only a part of the measures taken. In fact, we refuse a policy abandoning prostitutes to their fate, without concern for their future. It would be unthinkable to devise an overall prevention project without provision for concrete measures with regard to those, men and women, who have hitherto earned their living by prostitution.

- «You refuse to accept for prostitutes the most elementary rights as to hygiene, security and health»

Hygiene, security, health, such is the trilogy of the new women merchants. The brothel keeper lobbies (Catalonia for example) advance such arguments to modernize their archaistic commerce : guards and alarm signals, clean towels and obligatory medical checks supposedly suffice to settle permanently any conscience problems.

Apart from the fact that the density of alarm bells is the most obvious proof of the dangerousness of the activity, it must be borne in mind that the "clients", who must not be shocked or upset, are themselves exempt of all health checks. The client has all the rights. What does it matter if he’s got HIV, that he can pay more for a go without protection and contaminate the person he uses. This scenario is omitted in the flattering presentation of our new marketing kings.

What does it matter if the managers themselves persuade their recruits to accept unprotected customers and intolerable rates... The majority of the prostitutes we meet are fiercely hostile to the supposed "comfort" of these establishments, whose prison-like regime they fear.

The Pro-Prostitution Creed. The weapon of words and concepts, deciphering

Words are the main weapons used in the neo-regulationary offensive. They are selected to contribute to the construction of a certain perception of reality ["service", "profession", "choice"]. It is built on precise political objectives. A first stage, in the nineteen-nineties, resulted, under political pressure in the Netherlands, in the acceptance as trivial of terms such as "prostitution under constraint" opening the way to "free" prostitution and "sex work", thereby ratifying the normalization of prostitution as a sector of the economy.

Clichés which last and confuse

- «We do not sell our bodies, we sell a service and nothing more»

A simple service... is that so ? If "sexual service" is equivalent to nursing or domestic services, we must draw the obvious conclusions and erase from our memories the experience acquired over years of struggles to obtain a right to employment which did not include a "droit des seigneurs" for their employer. Those who defend prostitution as an ordinary "profession" in fact support a return to the right to sexual exploitation.

Which secretary, which worker, which hospital nurse could still refuse to offer sexual services in the framework of her employment if such practices were to be considered as a service rendered among others, trivial and accepted.

- «It’s a trade like any other : we all sell ourselves more or less, whether we’re workers or prostitutes»

Every commercial act is not an act of prostitution. Thinking in this way is good for the well-to-do who no longer know what such words mean. Who is ready to maintain that a fellation with a stranger is on the same level as typing on a cash register ?

It is true that many are exploited in multiple activities marked by precarity and low pay. The capitalist market system does not hesitate to impose increasing alienation, where people are on the same level as objects. These facts by no means put prostitution, which is simply the extreme point of this way of thinking, in the clear. How can one still struggle against precarious and alienating work if we accept that prostitution be considered as "a job like any other" ?

- «Some prostitutes decided on their "profession", well aware of what it entailed»

Choice, in this case, is a non-objective notion. One can also "choose" to go and work in the mines or emigrate in the worst possible conditions to survive. If prostitutes express a choice, this is dictated by their financial requirements and has nothing to do with sexual autonomy. The concept of "choice" is mainly employed, by directing attention to the individual dimension alone, to mask the entirety of the prostitutional system, its real causes (social, cultural, political) and its impact on social relations and mentalities.

- «Prostitution is no worse than marriage : violence is everywhere»

It is true that, over a long period, marriage was an institution of oppression for women. This can still be the case when it is a framework for violence. However the main purpose of this comparison is to disqualify and belittle these forms of violence instead of fighting them. But nowhere do they reach such intolerable levels as in prostitution : insults, humiliations, sexual harassment, aggressions, rapes, murders...

The least one can say is that it is excessive at the present time to maintain the confusion. Marriage is no longer the situation of confinement it was traditionally - divorce and conjugal rape are now recognized. One detail, however, must be borne in mind : sexuality in the married state can be desired and reciprocal ! The same can not be said in the case of prostitution.

- «Many of us are free, we don’t all have a procurer»

All of us, no. But the facts are obstinate. And the procurers are more and more difficult to identify at a time when they no longer wear "large check" jackets, as in the films of the fifties.

Specialists in camouflage, they have adapted themselves to the new situation : person in charge of an internet site, companion making money from his attentive presence, dealer, bar manager, head of department with posh suit and tie... The money to be made from prostitution continues to attract all types of profit-makers. And organized indebtedness and racketeering form a block withstanding all evolutions.

- «Recognition of our profession would restore our dignity»

The claim to a status, a profession is, in the first place the means devised by stigmatized persons to hope to conquer dignity and solidarity. This legitimate need for recognition is understandable. But the question is badly formulated. In reality, dignity engendered by the normalization of prostitution would only serve the procurers and their industry, but not the persons prostituted, stigmatized for ever, parked in ghettos, as "sex workers". The persons prostituted are worthy, the prostitutional institution is unworthy.


Today, another stage is reached with a new generation of words and concepts misused with devastating cynicism.

- «Proud to be whores»

Disdainfully reverse the insult: this attitude has been observed among the homosexuals, witness the "Gay Pride" parade. "Whore Pride" takes over. Since the homosexuals have acquired their right to the recognition of homosexuality, the prostitutes would gain theirs to ply a "trade", unjustly stigmatized. The comparison is audacious. The homosexuality of someone concerns his private life and in no way harms other people.

Prostitution is a trade bringing in considerable profits, often organized by procurers and traffickers, involving violence of all sorts.

The cunning confusion with the struggle of another category of downtrodden persons is a good way of allaying all inclination to criticize.

- «Whorephobia»

Whoever decides to denounce prostitution and protests vigourously against its legalization is henceforth considered as "whorephobe". To the ear, whorephobia is very close to homophobia. It is an amalgamation strategy, a decision to intimidate, a totally dishonest procedure, nevertheless highly efficient as regards all misinformed persons.

Whorephobia is constructed on the same basis as islamophobia, recently created by the fundamentalists for the purpose of discrediting their opponents by imposing suspicions of racial prejudice. A marvellous example of an ideological trick.

- «Pro-Sex" movements»

Pro-commerce, pro-profits would be more accurate. But the choice of the term "pro-sex" is better salesmanship and has the advantage of dismissing any opponents as anti-sex stymies, buttoned-up to the collar.

This supposes we have, on one side, the joyful hedonists and on the other, mournful, lack-lustre moralizers.

As if, in quite a different register, opposing "bad grub" made you an unsavoury individual unable to appreciate good food.

«Prostitution has always existed and will always exist, there’s nothing you can do about it»

So prostitution is to be considered natural, timeless, eternal... Yet it by no means deserves such excessive honour. Prostitution is nothing but a cultivated product, an example of inequality and of the reflex whereby the stronger tends to exploit the weaker. It is definitely ancient, but does this suffice to make it legitimate?

Excision is also ancient. As is the “inferiority” of women, almost worldwide.

Must we then give up all hope of broadening these outlooks to improve practices and ideas? Is it illusory to want to invent new ways of living together, to construct new values ?

It is the sole ground for the existence of abolitionism, a modern, humanist and progressive idea.
Since its creation over a century ago abolitionism partakes in the struggle for the respect of human rights. It was actively supported by its most ardent supporters, Jean Jaurès and Victor Hugo. It is moreover inseparable from the battle waged by women to obtain equality. We must remember the concomitance in France of the women’s right to vote (1944) and the closure of brothels (1946)...

Today, the text which gave rise to abolitionism, the International Convention of 1949 for the Repression of the White Slave Trade underwent destruction organized by statutory lobbies eager to open the way to the immense profits related to prostitution. This text, adopted in a period where liberty and dignity were celebrated, that of post-Nazism, abolished all regulations, all discrimination with regard to prostitutes and organized the repression of procurers and the organizers of prostitution.

Today, regression is making headway. Major European states legitimize the so-called "sex-work" and the revenues of its powerful, well-dressed "managers". Prostitution is becoming, in a climate of overall indifference, a possible profession in the "public service" framework.

Faced with the liberal cynicism which would appear to be the limit of thoughts on the subject, we refuse to give up the struggle. The abolitionists fought hard to end the reglementation of prostitution. They will continue and refuse prostitution itself, an archaism unworthy of our democracies.


Traduction : Jean Miller-Dalens

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