Former International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a French court that he was unaware of the “prostitutional character” of women involved in orgies at luxury hotels in Paris and Washington D.C. were prostitutes. The much ridiculed defense is only the latest development in a bizarre criminal prosecution in France, where prostitution is legal but not soliciting or running a prostitution business – a curious line to draw for criminal cases.
The 65-year-old economist appears not to have been especially interested in the economic reasons for their participation and must have just assumed that these younger women were simply drawn to him and 13 co-defendants in orgies that centered on the Hotel Carlton in Lille, France.
The case highlights the strange approach to prostitution in France. Many in this country question the criminalization of prostitution between consenting adults when adults are allowed in have sex on film for money and can obviously have sex with as many partners as they like for free. Moreover, there is often a blurred line when such relationship involve ample gifts like the controversial relationship between Donald Sterling and his much younger girlfriend. Yet there remains a strong opposition to prostitution on moral grounds as well as the view that the practice is harmful and discriminatory to women.
Many countries have legalized prostitution but France has this curious differentiation. The no solicitation law appears to be directed at street walkers and is found in other countries. A person can charge for sex but cannot engage in racolage (soliciting), including racolage passif or passive soliciting. That is fairly standard since one of the benefits of legalization is viewed as regulating the practice and forcing it indoors. However, there is also a prohibition on advertising which is in conflict with the notion of a legal practice (though we have restricted product advertising like alcohol and tobacco). The more curious distinction is the criminalization of proxénétisme (procuring) which includes “helping or protecting someone to prostitute themselves profiting from the prostitution of another or receiving funds from someone who prostitutes themselves habitually hiring or training someone to prostitute themselves or pressuring someone to prostitute themselves.” That would seem to criminalize the management of such businesses. Indeed, there is a move in France to add penalties for “johns.” The result is a somewhat conflicted approach in France, which is now one of the more hostile nations toward prostitution while still allowing prostitution on some level. What is missing is a clear and coherent approach as revealed in this case.
Prostitutes in the case have said that Strauss-Kahn organized orgies between 2009 and 2011 at luxury hotels in Paris, at a restaurant in the French capital and also in Washington. That would obviously undermine the notion of a lack of knowledge of their “prostitutional character” even if the orgies themselves did not create some suspicions. Moreover, one prostitute accused Strauss-Kahn of committing brutal sex acts with her. Again, Strauss-Kahn seems to be arguing that he thought that this much younger woman simply wanted to be brutalized and have sex with him and his friends.
In his defense, Strauss-Kahn insisted that there were only 12 orgies in 3 years. That I believe was intended to help his case.