Florence Montreynayd is a French historian, linguist and feminist born in 1948.
She launched on the 8th of March 1999 the manifest of the Chiennes de Garde (Female Watchdogs): “To sexually slander a woman in public, is to slander all women”, and after she launched the mixed and internacional mouvement of Chiennes de Garde, which demands respect for all women. Website: chiennesdegarde.com.
In 2000, she launched the feminist mixed and international network La Meutre, against sexist advertising (website:lameute.fr); in 2001, she launched the mixed and international network “Encore féministes!” (website:encorefeministes.free.fr) and in 2011, she also launched the male international mouvement Zéromacho: “Men say NO to prostitution!”
She is the author of 18 books. The most recent ones, edited in 2018, are : “Le Roi des cons. Quand la langue française fait mal aux femmes, éditions Le Robert and also Zéromacho. Des hommes disent non à la prostitution, M éditions, Montréal. She is also the author of feminist encyclopedia Le XXe Siècle des femmes (Nathan, 1989 ; quatre rééditions, la dernière en 2001) and of the feminist memoir: Chaque matin, je me lève pour changer le monde. Du MLF aux Chiennes de garde (éd. Eyrolles, 2014).
“EU Member-States: Presentations on international practices” session
Since April 2016, France enforced a law against the system of prostitution inspired by the Swedish model: the people in prostitution are no longer considered as delinquents, but as victims to whom the State must offer support and a way out. It clearly appears as such from the title itself: “A law aimed at reinforcing the fight against the system of prostitution and to support people in prostitution”.
The revolutionary characteristic, the only one that journalists and public paid attention to, is penalizing punters for an act of prostitution. These men – I prefer to call them prostituters since “clients” only offers an economic analysis of prostitution – are pulled out of the shadow. This law makes these men responsible for the system of prostitution because without demand there would be no supply. Without these millions of men ready to pay for a sex act, there wouldn’t be any human beings traffic for prostitution.
The prescribed penalty is quite light, i.e. a contravention. The sanction is a fine and not a prison sentence, as is the case for crimes and felonies. Factually speaking, the already inflicted fines were around 350€, and therefore quite inferior to the prescribed maximum (1 500€ and 3000 € in case of a subsequent offence).
In addition to the fine, the offender must also undergo a training to raise awareness of the struggle against buying sex acts, which “should remind the offender what are the realities of prostitution and the consequences of the mercantilization of bodies. It also intends to make the offender aware of his penal and civil responsibility for the acts.”
The penalty for prostituters is revolutionary because it is a total reversal of direction in a history scarred by indulgence regarding male violence. Until the 19th century, France, like many other countries, alternated between repression of prostitution and a larger or smaller tolerance. But with Napoleon, the regulation of prostitution reached a never-seen centralized organization, which earned it the name of “French system”, just like the so-called “Swedish system” today, which opened the way for radical change.
The French system established from 1802 organizes prostitution within the “establishments of tolerance”, where women are provided to men who pay. These women are called “filles soumises” (submissive girls) and are opposed to “filles insoumises” (rebellious girls) that hook in the streets and are chased by the police. The adjective soumises is telling a lot, although originally meaning “submissive to administrative and sanitary control”.
In exchange for a few concessions to social morality, like the interdiction to solicit through windows and therefore the obligation to close the street windows, originating the name “maisons closes” (closed houses), France thus organizes sexual slavery of poor women, forced to submit to medical controls, while the prostituters are not.
This system lasted until 1946, when the so-called Marthe Richard law abolished it in the country but not in the French colonies, where the abolition will only be enforced in 1960: this means military brothels are legal and soldiers in the colonial wars of Indochina and Algeria are entitled to them.
Why 1960? That’s the year when France ratifies the abolitionist convention of 1949.
From 1960 onwards, France is officially abolitionist: prostitution is free, only pimping is repressed. In reality, it depends on the behavior of local police officers towards people in prostitution, the instructions they are given and the powers they feel entitled to.
2002 is a key year. The law named after the minister Sarkozy creates the crime of “passive soliciting”, which is a contradiction in itself. The people who solicit in the streets are liable to imprisonment and a few women are indeed imprisoned. This repressive law is a turning point in France. On the 10th of December 2002, answering a call of the National Collective for the rights of Women (Collectif national pour les droits des femmes), thousands of activists protest in Paris. The event makes history: it is the first time in the world that so many feminists protest against prostitution; another unprecedented element is that men are about a quarter of the total.
Since 2002, the long march to achieve a law after the Swedish model was ongoing until the unpredictable success in 2016. During all those years, and for some activists long before 2002, many of us acting without any hope of ever seeing such a law being passed – mostly because French society shows complacency towards prostitution, considered as a necessary evil, isn’t it called “the oldest profession in the world” (which is wrong, the oldest feminine profession being midwife). The prejudices about “men’s needs” are firmly ingrained, just as the awful justifications like “it keeps men from raping” and the fake compassion for women in prostitution “who would be warmer inside a brothel”. There’s another French particularity, unknown in the Nordic countries : the image featured in films and songs about the reputation of seductive French women, provides for a joyful and light image of prostitution and is associated to male enjoyment with a bit of transgression against middle-class hypocrisy.
It is this transgressive image that is still today cultivated by renowned men, intellectuals or artists, when they boast about buying sex, as a proof of their non-conformism. They add the power of their celebrity to a virulent lobby of pimps whose arguments go from ad hominem attacks against abolitionists, classified as “a bunch of frustrated Catholics” to individual claims presenting prostitution as a “chosen job”.
When facing such a coalition that had attracted most of the media attention, the abolitionist collective did not have much weight at first. And yet, a series of auspicious factors joined and we were successful in passing the law. In a text analyzing this (available in the website of Zéromacho), I listed five factors:
- A political engagement. It is the sine qua non condition: without a determined engagement of representatives and ministers which presented the law, we could not do anything. In this case, it was a campaign promise by Hollande which was followed through when he became president.
- The constitution of a collective of associations. As to France: 62 associations, a few of them specialized in helping women in prostitution, the other being generalist feminists, as well as Zéromacho, a network of engaged men against the system of prostitution. In France, a great majority of feminists are luckily abolitionists as well.
- The actions of women who had exited prostitution and who had witnessed the intrinsic violence in prostitution. In France, Rosen Hicher led a march of 740 km in order to convince MPs of the urgency of voting in favor of the law.
- The contribution of doctors who witnessed the physical and mental state of women in prostitution.
- The disclosure of the behavior of rich and famous prostituters, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, director of the IMF, or two football/soccer players, Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzéma, relaxed after having paid for sex to a 17 years old girl, although prostitution of a minor was already punished by law at that time.
In a world of equality, there will not be any prostitution. Every abolitionist law is therefore a progress towards that world.
A law that is not applied is useless and even dangerous.
We should therefore monitor the enforcement of the law, which means:
- Ensure there is always a budget concerning the provisions of the law;
- Contact the people in charge, the administrative directors of the ministeries and local councils so that each French département has the relevant commission to study the cases of persons who want to leave prostitution;
- Interpellate the Ministers of Justice and of Interior so that police officers do really chase the prostituters; in 2 years, 2 000 contraventions were made in only 4 French départements (there are 100 of them);
- Ensure the training of a new generation of police officers and public servants related to justice, as well as social workers;
- Ensure the integration of questions relating to the prevention of prostitution in sexual education programs at school.
As for activism, we must continue the pedagogical work to overcome the clichés about “male needs” or the “increased security of brothels”.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but the essential was achieved: the law established the principle that the pimps and the prostituters are the only ones to be condemned, while people in prostitution must be helped to exit. At last, a clear vision of this phenomenon of world oppression! We owe this clarity to Sweden, because in this case, the light came from the north. Thank you to Swedish people who have served humanity so brilliantly!