PARIS — As French lawmakers consider new legislation that would make it a crime to pay for sex, it’s becoming clear that we tend to know very little about the clientele of prostitutes.
Based on the few reports that have been published on the subject, between 12% and 18% of men (and less than 1% of women) have paid for sex in France. The majority are in relationships, have children and enjoy good social situations. So what are these men looking for? And will they stop if there is a risk of being fined or jailed?
Some of these so-called patrons agreed to answer questions by email on the condition that they would not be named (all used aliases). Of the 50 people we contacted via websites dedicated to prostitution, seven replied, though sometimes hesitantly. “It’s not that easy for a man to agree to talk about his paid relationships with women,” wrote Jean, a 37-year-old divorcé. “It’s because of the fear of being judged, of looking like a bastard, which I probably am, but I’d rather not think about that.”
These are men who are willing to spend 200 or 300 euros for a one-hour meeting with an escort. They are looking for “high-quality service” as opposed to “low quality, or even low-cost” street prostitution. They work in finance, marketing and IT.
“Need for change and novelty”
Most of these men say they don’t pay for sex to overcome a feeling of loneliness but instead because they want to fulfill fantasies. “We can do things that we can’t do with our everyday partners,” explained Radric, 24, who is part of a couple. “And we can meet all sorts of women, in accordance with our physical criteria.”
Similarly, 40-year-old “Antoine Inconnu” explained that he “achieves” with prostitutes what he is “not able to achieve” with his wife. He also referenced a “need for change and novelty.” As for François, 52, and also part of a couple, prostitutes bring him “a little variety” and were “a bit of sexual company” when he was alone.
“I met types of women that I would never have been able to mix with in my everyday life,” wrote “homme cool,” who is 34 and single. “For example, I met this tall brunette, dark skin, 5-foot-9 and with everything in the right place.”
Cédric, 27 and single, went to see a prostitute for the first time in August. “She was a beautiful, promiscuous woman and an expert in her sexuality.”
Easy, discreet, no commitment
Prostitution offers a certain number of guarantees: It is easy, discreet and requires no commitment. “Antoine Inconnu” wrote that there is “no pressure” and no risk of interfering with his “private life.” Radric described a “moment of escape where I don’t feel judged by the woman in front of me,” a “stimulating transgression.”
Paying means that you can “avoid the seduction phase, and the restaurant or cinema, which can sometimes lead nowhere,” says “homme cool.” At the end of the day, it can even end up being cheaper, he said. Jean explained the “fear of engaging with someone, the fear of suffering and failing once again.”
Jean is the only one to have met with a woman who was clearly forced to work as a prostitute. “She had bruises on her forearms … She was scared. I paid and I left instantly,” he recounted. “I'm more careful now. There are unmistakable forerunners.”
All vehemently condemn pimping and human trafficking in the strongest terms. And all but Jean say they have met only women who freely and willingly sell their services. “Of course, I can’t be certain,” François noted. In their minds, coercion is associated with physical abuse but not with financial needs. In fact, they dislike the thought that prostitutes would do it just to earn a living.
“There are some who do it because they need the money, and I don’t feel comfortable with them (probably because I feel guilty) so I avoid them,” “Mas Reg” wrote. “There are others who do it because they like sex and money.” “Antoine Inconnu” said he had the “weakness to think” that the escorts he met were doing it “because they needed to and also a bit for pleasure.” Jean told the story of a young woman who had no other client besides him. She contacts him “whenever she wants sex, tenderness or money.”
“The world isn’t made of rainbows and lollipops”
Some even said they prefer the “occasional” prostitutes which allow for “more human” encounters, as opposed to “professionals” who are more “mechanical.” “It’s as if they all had the same training,” Radric said. Cédric is straightforward on this question: “What motivates the prostitute is none of my business.”
People who oppose prostitution think of the women as victims, that they are forced to sell what should not be sold. “The world isn’t made of rainbows and lollipops. People buy and sell anything,” Jean wrote. Some escort girls earn “a lot of money without working full time. It’s easy money,” “homme cool” wrote. “Everybody wins.”
For these men, the possibility of a new law that would prosecute clients is appalling. An idea they characterize as “hypocritical,” “cowardly,” “stupid” or “certainly due to a feminist point of view.” Only François has mixed feelings. “I can't make up my mind about it,” he said. “I’ve read articles that were for and against it, and I found they both had valid arguments.” He explained that he will probably stop if the bill passes. He is the only one, and he is also the one who patronizes prostitutes the least: not even once a year, as opposed to up to three times a month for the others. And yet, they do not feel threatened by the legislation.
“If I agree with somebody by email or by phone to meet at her place, at mine or at a hotel, I hardly see how the police could ever know anything and intervene,” "Antoine Inconnu" said. “Besides, don't they have anything better to do?”
Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.
• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.
• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.
• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.
• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.
• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction
Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.
🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.
😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.
🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.
— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.
🇮🇷🎓 IN OTHER NEWS
Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement
Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.
Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.
The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.
Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.
Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."
Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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