Let’s dare to speak about prostitution

In the European Union more and more people get exploited as prostitutes. That is the result of a new EU-study about human trafficking. What is not mentioned in these statistics however, is the number of people who prostitute themselves out of desperation. In France a lot of students take extreme measures because they cannot afford their study so they prostitute themselves. Lilou M. is one of them.

By Stefanie Zillner

Paris, France: It is four o’clock, Lilou’s friends are sitting in a lecture about macro-economics, and she should be there as well. Instead, she takes the metro to a completely different place. Lilou is going to meet Gabriel. She answered on his advertisement in the internet; he called himself “sponsor for students” and will give her 150 Euros for one hour – money that she needs to pay for her food.

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Lilou M.: student and part-time prostitute. (Photo: Lilou M.)

Lilou is one of 40,000 French students that have a special side job: prostitution. The number was published by the French study organisation SUD. It is only an estimate; nobody knows exactly how many students are actually prostituting themselves.

According to Maxence Lagalle, vice president of the communications department of AFEP, the “Association Fédérative des Etudiants de Poitiers” (federal association of students in Poitiers), the main reason for those students is money:

– Generally, prostitution is seen as a last solution to face off misery. Most of concerned students are in very poor financial situation, often having less than 1 € each day to live when they have paid their rents and bills.

France and prostitution

In France, two political views about prostitution exist.

– The government and some NGOs view prostitution as a crime and prostitutes as victims.

-They want to help them by penalizing clients and by giving assistance to quit prostitution.

– Some other NGOs see prostitution as a choice.

– They want to help by claiming a worker status and social protection for prostitutes.

– They also give self-defence lessons and empowerment advices.

Source: Maxence Lagalle, AFEP

Affordable tuition fees in France

Even though studying in France is not for free like it is in other European countries as Denmark, Austria or Sweden, it is still not as expensive as it is for example in England. Tuition fees at universities are relatively low. The amount of fees per year fixed by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research is 177 Euro for the first cycle (Bachelor) and 245 Euro for the second cycle (Master). However, a number of universities have decided to add associated costs related to specific services (e.g. for diplomas related to continuing learning and training). In some public universities, the tuition fees can reach more than 2,000 Euro a year. Fees in the Grandes Ecoles (elite universities)  and Engineering Schools vary, but the most common amount is 584 Euro per year.

Tuition fees are only the initial hurdles though. In order to study it is often necessary to move to a big city where the monthly rent is high. In addition to that students must pay for their books, the public transport ticket and daily expenses.

The French government offers help for students.

– The government gives grants to some poor students who depend on the parents revenues. They also give access to some rooms and flats for a moderate rent and offer a service of Social Restoration where students can eat for 3.10 Euro. For emergency situations, they also give special grants, says Lagalle.

The French organisation OVE (Observatoire de la Vie Étudiante; an organisation that observates the student life in France) found that in France, 100,000 students live below the poverty line. 1.5 % of the students are in a serious, insecure situation.

According to the “National student fee and suport system” report of the European Commission 2011/12, approximately 30 % of the students receive a grant. They are also exempt from fees. Grants are awarded on the basis of financial need to students that are less than 28 years of age.

The amount awarded for the need-based grant depends on the assessment of social criteria, and varies between 1,606 and 4,600 Euro per year. Still there are students like Lilou who do not benefit from this system.

– My dad is a worker, my mum is a nurse. They earn enough to get by. But they are not poor enough so that I can get a government grant. I am not wealthy at all, but my parents, according to the government, are too rich to get support. They are supposed to pay for my education. But they can not. They pay my tuition fee and sometimes they give me extra-money when they can. But how could they send me money each month?

Student loans from the government are available with a maximum amount of 15,000 Euro. However, less than 0.1 % of university students take out such a loan. Neither does Lilou.

– A loan means that I have a huge amount of debt, even before I get to work. I was afraid of that. And I thought I would get by with my money, so I did not really consider doing it in the beginning. It is just not an option.

Problems with money can also stem from alternative reasons.

– There are also for example of some situations of family breakdown affecting some students, says Maxence Lagalle from AFEP.

In some cases parents just do not want to support their children.

Prostitution as a last resort

Just because studying is expensive does not automatically mean that you need to earn money by prostitution. Still for some, it is the last resort.

According to Lagalle, “normal” side jobs are sometimes no option.

– In situation of crisis these jobs are very hard to get, a lot of students apply for and only a few are selected. Moreover, the student life asks a lot of time and energy, and it is hard to work beside. So, prostitution should appear as a quicker -not easier- way to have the money needed to live decently.

Lilou works part-time at a call center. But even with this job she still did not earn enough there to pay the rent.

Lilou M.

Lilou M. (Photo: Lilou M.)

– I worked fifteen hours per week at the company, I had twenty hours of university and I had to learn a lot in addition to that at home or at the library. I did not have time to work more, but I also did not earn enough. The day came that I could not pay my rent to the friend I shared my flat with. I tried to find something cheaper, but it was impossible. I was really desperate. I remember how I was sitting at the library’s computer and typing in “student quick easy money”. When I saw what suggestions google gave me I immediately shut it down and went. In the train back home I started thinking though.

In her hotly debated essay “La prostitution étudiante à l’heure des nouvelles technologies de communication” (student prostitution at times of new communication technologies), Eva Clouet, sociology master student, states that through the internet, a lot of students can easily do the first step of prostituting themselves. It is easy and quick and most importantly creates a feeling of protection while communicating with potential clients anonymously.

Prostitution and the internet

Lilou got in contact with her first client via internet.

– After about one week thinking “shall I do it or not?” my flatmate somehow made the decision for me. She said either I paid the rent or I had to leave. I decided to do it at this moment and I swore to me that it will be the only time. I clicked through hundreds of contact advertisements until I chose Joseph.

– He was waiting for me at a hotel lobby, he looked totally normal. A normal, middle aged man with brown hair and a little beer belly.

– As soon as we entered the room he laid on the bed and looked at me like waiting for something. I didn’t know what to do but I thought, well, I should undress. We did it and I was feeling absolutely nothing.

– He gave me an envelope with 200 Euro, I took it and left. When I stepped outside of the hotel I cried. I cried on my way back home. I gave the money to my flatmate and it felt like a miracle, as if someone took away a big sorrow from me.

Since then, Lilou occasionally has sex for money. Together with her call center job she earns enough to make ends meet.

– I do it three or four times a month. I would not say that it became routine, but I am used to it. I kind of turn my brain off when I do it. My best friends know what I do, my family and acquaintances don not of course. I will finish my study and hopefully forget that time.

Not every student prostitute can cope with this life as well as Lilou can.

Maxence Lagalle knows cases where the students get serious psychological problems.

– They say that they progressively loss their sensations, emotions and become fade, as a way to protect themselves for the clients. Some clients are also violent, so the physical injuries are added to these sufferings. It is also a very hidden life, with the stress of being caught or denounced.

Let’s dare to speak about it

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Flyer “Osons en parler” (Photo: AFEP)

In order to help student prostitutes, the AFEP set up a campaign called “Osons en Parler” (Let’s dare to speak about it).

– In “Osons en Parler” our main objective is to promote the services of the Preventive Medicine. In fact, the Preventive Medicine has built a service where student prostitutes are welcome and are listened. Then, the Preventive Medicine bring them a psychological support and try to find financial helps to allow them to quit prostitution; they also provide a long-term follow-up to help them to start over, Lagalle explains

To promote this service, AFEP set up different actions: They distributed flyers about the problem and the service. They also made a video (“Osons en Parler”) showing two testimonials of former prostitutes. The video has been viewed more than 18 500 times and was promoted in the media. The aim is to incite students in prostitution or thinking about it to speak and seek assistance.

In order to prevent student prostitution it is important to get to the root of the problem – the money. Therefore, the AFEP is claiming for a reform of the grant system in France.

– In our opinion, the French system of grants suffers two issues: First, it works with levels of grants, so a variation in revenue of 10 Euro should decrease the grants of more than 1,000 Euro. Then, it depends on the parents revenues and does not take in account the situations of family breakdowns.

The question remains though why both male and female students resort to prostituting themselves just to be able to study. For Lilou that was never a debate.

– Of course it is worth it. One day I want to be rich. I want to do a work that I like and where I earn enough to live without any sorrow. That is actually the goal in my life. That I don’t have to worry about money every single day, how to pay my rent or my food. Just to enjoy life free from worry.

Lilou M.

Lilou is 25 years old.

She studies economics in Paris.

She didn’t want her last name to be published to not be identified.

The interview with her took place via Facebook.