The powers of the Mondaine

The law is quite vague on what is meant by prostitution: it is often the police who are responsible for defining it, but they focus on street prostitution, that of the working classes, without paying little attention to the often luxurious prostitution of the lower classes. superiors.

At the beginning of June 2021, a specialized brigade of the Parisian judicial police is in the spotlight in the national press. An international prostitution ring operating from Eastern Europe has just “fallen”, a very organized network which took advantage of the health crisis to establish itself in unoccupied Airbnb apartments in the upscale neighborhoods of the capital. This news item, around fifty networks are dismantled each year by the Brigade for the Repression of Proxentism, illustrates several of the dynamics and protagonists which are at the heart of the work that Gwnalle Mainsant devotes to the contemporary government of prostitution: decline of street prostitution (still accentuated by the pandemic) for the benefit of sexual commerce on the internet, the rise of networks originating from Eastern countries, police officers from the Brigade for the Repression of Proxentism (former Mural Police, subsequently becoming “La Mondaine”) who are leading the investigation into male proxnts exploiting vulnerable young women.

If “the Mondaine” is often associated with the image of luxury prostitution, it is nevertheless on the control of a declining street prostitution which concerns more the working classes than the more privileged circles which resort to discreet prostitution mentioned above that Paradoxically, the effort of the police services is focused, against a backdrop of police war between units obeying different logics of action and visions of the profession, the rise of security discourses and the politics of numbers. All social groups and all illegalities are therefore not equal before the law: on the contrary, they are subject to differentiated treatment according to gender, class and race. supported by an ethnographic investigation within several Parisian police departments (“La Mondaine”, but also the Territorial Investigations Support Unit created in 2003 to fight against solicitation and the Central Office for the Repression of Trafficking in Human Beings), the demonstration of this thesis is also based on the consultation of archives and on the carrying out of interviews with police officers, associative actors, magistrates, prostitutes and pimps. distanced from an “individualizing approach to the law which attributes responsibility for an offense to an individual” (p. 31), the analysis makes it possible to show how the police produce, in the absence of a legal definition of prostitution, a work of categorization “on the job” which , by considering prostitutes less as litigants than as sources of information, maintains a differential management of sexual illegalities. Several important results emerge from this masterfully written and documented work, which offers both a contribution to the sociology of the police and an enrichment of it by a sociology of gender.

The definition of prostitution “from below”, between intelligence logic and appearance policing

The analysis of the fight against pimping first of all confirms several central observations of the sociology of the police, starting with the discretionary power of field agents. Historically focused on public peace policing, the study of concrete police work has long demonstrated the extent of the room for maneuver available to police officers in their interventions. Responsible for enforcing the law, the police have in practice a great deal of freedom of assessment as the texts are sometimes ambiguous, contradictory, or even silent in the face of the contingency of the situations dealt with on a day-to-day basis. Autonomy is also a characteristic of the investigative police, which is well illustrated by the example of the Proxentism Repression Brigade (BRP): faced with the indeterminacy of the law in matters of prostitution, it is in fact up to the police to define, “from below”, what illegal sexuality is.

This autonomy of the services does not, however, only result from the silences of the law: it is also sought and skillfully maintained by strategies aimed at distancing these sources of police work which are judicial and hierarchical injunctions (relay of political will), as well as the social demand (for example from exhausted local residents or from associations helping prostitutes). This distancing from external pressures reinforces the mastery, by the police officers themselves, of the definition of legitimate targets and of real police work. Here we find the prevalence of hierarchies of prestige internal to the police profession, following the adage according to which “the big thug makes the big cop”, as well as the disqualification of social work and compassionate logic. Neither victims of sexual exploitation or trafficking, nor guilty of solicitation, prostitutes are above all seen by the police officers of the Prosecution Repression Brigade as sources of information that must be managed: because “being a good cop means knowing how to recruit informers.” » (p. 142), which will, if necessary, allow organized pimping networks to be dismantled. A judicial police service, the Brigade for the Repression of Proxentism has historically had an ambivalent mandate. Officially, its role is to control the police prey that are prostitutes. But it has also long been focused on intelligence work where prostitutes are seen less as litigants than as privileged informants useful to investigations targeting organized crime.

The Internal Security Law of 2003, however, reinforced the uncertainties about the objectives of the fight against prostitution and pimping. Establishing the repression of soliciting as a priority for action, it opens up logics of competition between services where, in the background, pre-existing intelligence logics and the reaffirmed issue of a policing of appearance. While the police BRP could use their discretionary power and turn a blind eye to certain facts to obtain information useful for pimping investigations, the creation of a Support Unit for territorial investigations (USIT) dedicated to the systematic cleansing of street prostitution (which represents the most dominated fringe of the prostitution space) complicates the situation. This intensification of a policing of maintaining appearances guided by the politics of numbers has favored less a disappearance of prostitution than a transformation of it through adaptation. Establishment outside Paris Intramural and transformation of methods of recruiting clients (use of the Internet, development of massage parlors, etc.) are particularly changing the landscape of Parisian prostitution.

Gender institution and gender police

If police actions thus contribute to certain developments in prostitution, police work is characterized at the same time by a strong inertia which hinders changes in the legal framework and public action. At a time when forms of prostitution perceived as different by the police are developing (prostitution originating from China, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or even male and transgender prostitution), it is on white and heterosexual prostitution that their attention continues to focus. .

This inertia in the face of developments at work has a specific gender configuration, which is illuminated by an interactionist perspective attentive to social gender relations which extends the analyzes of Genevive Pruvost. Despite a relative feminization, the Brigade for the Repression of Proxentism remains, the image of the police institution, governed by masculine and heterosexual norms. Recruiting female informants and knowing how to build special relationships with them is seen as the prerogative of male police officers, as the ways of doing things are based on relational work that oscillates between familiarity, paternalism, and even measured games of seduction. Inclined to play the card of familiarity with white heterosexual prostitutes (perceived as “real victims” allowing access to “handsome thugs” belonging to organized crime), the police are on the other hand reluctant to interact, out of embarrassment, disgust or fear of stigma, with homosexual men and with women (whether prostitutes or proxnts) from sub-Saharan Africa. Hence a distance, in this universe where the norm of the police officer is that of a heterosexual white man, of homosexual and transgender prostitution, of female pimping and non-white prostitution, whereas, as the website of the BRP“the vast majority of women who prostitute themselves (between 80% and 90%) are of foreign origin” (in particular of Chinese or Nigerian origin) and that “80% of proxnts are women”.

Two counter-intuitive observations arise from this: on the one hand, a repertoire of police action which distances the use of force and coercion, in favor of valuing relational work, a skill which is here perceived as essentially masculine; on the other hand, the fact that the virilist norms of this relational work protect ultimately the most stigmatized forms of prostitution: “paradoxically, by refusing and avoiding working on male prostitutes, police officers do not work on the most stigmatized populations and therefore do not increase the stigma weighing on transgenders and transvestites an unusual result in the sociology of deviance” (p. 236).

These different observations do not only reflect the gendered order of interactions between police officers and prostitutes: they are part of a broader picture which is that of the recompositions of the role of the State in the face of deviance and sexual morality (subject of chapters 1 and 2). Through the prism of a Foucauldian reading, the analysis shows a great variability in the conception of illegalities and sexual deviance over time, which follows the twists and turns of the transformations of the relationship of French society to sexuality since the end of the Second World War, between politicization and depoliticization, regulationism and abolitionism. With sexual liberation and the progressive depoliticization of questions relating to sexuality throughout the 1960s and 70s, the surveillance of “good walls” (control of libertinism, obscenity, homosexuality, etc.) gave way to the sole fight against proxntism. Despite the prestige that traditionally surrounds investigative police services, the Mondaine thus becomes the guardian of a control over historically dated sexuality and double speed which focuses on the sexuality of the working classes, the surveillance of the practices of the upper classes remaining the object with a felt treatment.