Proposed French legislation
I recently heard a recording of a very interesting interview on my local (French) radio station, and I thought your readers might like to hear about it. I wrote to the broadcasting station and asked if I could have a transcript. I am pleased to say they agreed, and I have translated it as here:
We are pleased to have with us today the distinguished gastronome and philosopher Louis-Gustave Capper, winner of the Prix Cinqroutes for innovative cuisine in the year 1931. Professor, thank you very much for agreeing to speak to us. As you know the French Assembly has again begun a project of law with the idea of imposing fines on clients of prostitutes. We should be glad to have your views on the project and, if you will permit, I have to begin by putting a question which a number of our female listeners insisted should be put to you, when they heard this interview would be broadcast: Are you a male chauvinist?
There are several answers to this question. As often with such questions of a social nature, the answers vary according to the person giving them, and have nothing useful to do with the nature of the person or subject under investigation. Perhaps we may proceed to more substantive issues.
Do you think that there are different categories of rape?
I do not think any sane person can believe rape to be anything other than a very serious crime, whether committed against a male or a female. However, there is reason to think it is especially heinous when the victim is female, to judge from the fact that on occasions it leads to suicide, whereas such an outcome seems to be extremely rare when the victim is male. Having said that much, however, is it not evident that extreme brutality, for example, will make the crime worse?
The supporters of this legislation say that it will reduce the incidence of trafficking. Do you agree?
Trafficking is a term that certainly admits of different categories, since it means in essence no more than trading in some commerce that a government dislikes. Some forms of such commerce should be encouraged by all honest citizens. I think, for example of the illegal export of necessary medicines into countries despite political sanctions against their governments. Iran’s citizens have long been at risk when travelling by air because of severe difficulties obtaining spare parts for civilian aircraft. Historically there have been many countries which banned certain books which most urgently needed to be distributed in great numbers in those very countries. I myself look fondly on those who supply me with imported cigarettes which would cost me three times as much if they were imported legally.
I think in this case, however, they are speaking of trafficking in people.
Now it may be that here they are talking of people being treated in such trade as objects, and this is of course wrong, though let me point out that the worst offenders in this kind of treatment are governments themselves. But in any case they are clearly misusing the language (a lesser offence but still one where governments are egregious offenders) since as I have said trafficking is simply commerce of which a government disapproves. And I object most strongly to morally repugnant restrictions being placed on the crossing of frontiers by human beings. We are told that humanity benefits from a free market (an obvious falsehood since those who benefit from a free market are those who have access to the knowledge and control to take advantage of it) but even as the words are spoken we see that they do not mean at all what they appear to say. There is to be free movement of money and of physical goods but not of people, who are by the way the ones who do the work. A poor man loses his job in Africa. He goes to the embassy of a European country to get the visa which, as an African, he must get so that he can travel there to earn money for his family. It is refused, because he cannot show that he has money to support himself in Europe (and would be refused even if he could). So he sells half his possessions to pay for a trip to the coast, where he must hand over all the money that remains to him so that he can board a rotting boat which may take him to Europe. Is he not an investor? He has invested until he has nothing left. He has struggled for weeks to make the journey. He is a man. He wants to work. But if he reaches the other shore, he has no papers. He will be held in a camp like a prison until he is sent back because he is an economic migrant. So where is the theory of capitalism now? It is lacking one of its two main motive forces. However, I think that here too those who complain of trafficking really mean something different from what they are saying. They are not concerned with the crossing of frontiers but with what may happen thereafter to the people who cross them illegally. Now we know that some are forced to work as slaves, on farms, in brickyards, in factories, or private homes and that is so obviously wrong that I have a question of my own. In all countries that claim to be civilised there are laws against this, but not very much happens to stop it, and I would like to know why? Could it be that it is for the convenience of friends of the government? The other major crime committed against those arriving illegally is that they are forced into prostitution. Holding a human being prisoner in a network of prostitution is both kidnapping and rape. And there is rape every time that a client is served. Again there are laws that state clearly and loudly that these are crimes, and again I am puzzled that they do not seem to be used as much as I would expect and I wonder why.
So then you would support this proposed legislation?
Absolutely not. I have no objection in general to the fining of customers of prostitutes, male or female. Some clients will be caught, and the lives of those households will be shipwrecked. Blackmail will flourish (a doubtful benefit to society). The earnings of some poor women who have no chance to get reasonably paid work in socially approved employment will be disrupted. And those who continue to work in this way will be forced into more repellent and more dangerous places unless they are to risk a police raid while the transaction is proceeding. A very serious issue is that where the prostitution is enforced the gangs that exercise control will undoubtedly find ways to provide unchecked access, and that will make them more powerful. The number of reported incidents will be reduced but prostitution will continue. Are they not dealing with behaviour resulting from one of the three major human motives functioning to keep the race in existence? Perhaps the most serious result, however, will be that some of the potential clients, the most dangerous ones, will try to assuage their sexual hunger with crime. It is certain that there will be violent attacks. Are the supporters of this law so totally ignorant of the history of prohibition in America, where crime was driven by an urge strong enough, to be sure, but less deeply embedded in the human framework than this one.
Surely it is desirable that this unattractive aspect of society should be repressed?
I do not speak as an habitué of this milieu myself. Such a dérive is neither necessary nor conformable to my inclinations, and I have no difficulty in accepting that some find this aspect of society displeasing, but then I wish to ask why this is so. Combine to dishonour any social group and push it into a disagreeable style of life where the majority would not wish to go and even if it does not in reality become unattractive it will be so perceived by the lack of thought of the respectable. You can doubtless think of one well-known group so harassed today, in our country and to our shame. It is the instinct to drive out the ‘different’ and to declare that you do so because it is wrong or ugly or immoral. But the truth is not that it should be repressed because it is unattractive; instead, the fact is that it is treated by our society in such a way as to make it unattractive.
But the legislation is strongly supported by women’s rights groups.
It is to me extraordinary that they do not distinguish between those who are forced into this unpleasant and dangerous occupation, and those who choose it as they have the right to do for reasons of their own which we have no right to enquire into. These groups say that prostitution demeans the woman. Yes, a thousand times over – when it is enforced. There is something distasteful in beholding a woman whose talent or fortune of birth offer her a comfortable life in easy circumstances but who denies the right of a free woman to exercise the talents she is born with. Has she not the right to make choices of her own about her own body, just as do those who strive to become athletes, opera singers, film stars or restauratrices. Among those women’s rights groups is it not a majority who defend the right of a woman to make choices about her own body in the matter of pregnancy? Let them fine clients of prostitutes if they must (but know that unfortunate consequences will follow). Let them take firm and powerful measures against slavery and enforced violence against women, and men. But what they need to do is to make the simple distinction between an activity and abuses of it. Even the most authoritarian state does not ban reading because citizens might use it to read work on political liberty. Or to offer you another analogy, the cars of France cause pollution, problems of health, noise, fights, and most serious, accidents. Should we ban them or instead legislate against the evils they cause, punish those who transgress, and try to reduce to the maximum their nuisances while increasing to the highest level possible the assistance they can provide to the nation’s life?