Prostitution Targeted by French Bishops

Ask European Commitment Against «Slave Trade»

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PARIS, DEC. 18, 2000 ( The «slave trade» of prostitution is controlled by gangs operating throughout Europe who resort to kidnapping, torture and even death to keep their victims in line, French bishops warn in a new document.

The document «Slavery and Prostitution» was the fruit of a six-month study by the bishops´ Social Commission, presided over by Bishop Olivier de Berranger of Saint-Denis. Published last week, it makes an alarming appeal regarding prostitution in France and the rest of Europe.

The document describes the bleak world of prostitution, which comprises 20,000 people in France alone, including 5,000 to 6,000 on the streets. Prostitution, the bishops say, is only the first link in a chain of criminal activity that includes drug trafficking and arms trading.

Noting an influx of prostitutes from the East, the episcopal statement says that the sex market is managed by «bands that operate throughout Europe; hence, we must speak of traffic, of ´slave trade.´»

The analysis draws on the experience of numerous associations which combat prostitution. Eleven of these associations organized a conference in Paris last May, entitled «Prostitution, People of the Abyss,» which outlined some of the abuses prostitutes face at the hands of their bosses. Punishments include kidnapping, torture, being sold at «auctions,» forced movement every 15 days, and even death.

«The French bishops decided to make this statement on prostitution at the explicit request of the associations,» Father Damien Ledouarein, secretary of the Social Commission, told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. «Given the particularly alarming situation, which is common throughout Europe, we have invited the episcopates of Europe of the 15 [meeting in the Commission of Bishops´ Conferences of the European Union] to write a joint document; not having received a reply, we decided to go ahead alone, always hoping to be able to work jointly in the future.»

The French bishops warn against trivializing the problem. Sale of the body is incompatible with the dignity of the human person, they say, and, hence, prostitution can never be considered a «job.» There is no such thing as «good» or «bad» prostitution, judged differently because of the free consent of the person who prostitutes herself, they add.

«By reducing human relations to merchandise, prostitution does not recognize the work of the Creator,» the document states. «It represents the rejection of the divine plan that touches every human person and, therefore, in relation to faith, it is a sin, both personal as well as collective.»

The bishops call on the French state to ensure that the civil code will state formally that the body cannot be the object of trade. At the European level the episcopal document calls on organizations to oppose the position of some states that are determined to «regulate» prostitution, to make it a job.

The bishops request that pressure be exerted on states that have not ratified the Dec. 2, 1949, International Convention «against the trade of human beings and the exploitation of prostitution.» The bishops also appeal to the United Nations to create a «control mechanism» destined to supervise the implementation of the 1949 convention.

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