An Ambiguous Compassion: Policing and Debating Prostitution in Contemporary France

Mathieu, Lilian (2012): An Ambiguous Compassion: Policing and Debating Prostitution in Contemporary France, in: Sexuality Research and Social Policy 9(3), pp 203-211.

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Abstract

Since 1960, prostitution is defined by the French law as incompatible with human dignity. Prostitutes are considered as victims of social maladjustment who should be rescued by social workers and protected from pimps by the police. Major changes in prostitution policies have nevertheless been introduced in 2003, without fundamentally changing the law. Extended means have been given to the police to repress street prostitutes, and, crucially, to arrest and expel those prostitutes who are undocumented migrants. Surprisingly, this coercive turn has not been perceived as contradictory with the former compassionate approach, as repression is deemed to guarantee the protection of prostitutes’ human dignity. This paradox stands at the core of the article that explores the public controversies on the issue—and especially the new project to criminalize the purchase of sexual services—among social movements, politicians, government agencies, and intellectuals, as they are expressed in the media and in parliamentary debates.

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