Turning Tricks Into Sympathy

Thirty years ago, a taxi driver in Mexico City taught me, though I cannot remember the exact context in which he did so, some lines from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the learned Mexican nun of the 17th century, a sage, and poetess famous not only in Mexico but in Europe. I have never forgotten them because they sum up succinctly many a moral dilemma (trying to decide whom to blame is a moral dilemma):

Hombres necios que acusáis

a la mujer sin razón,

sin ver que sois la ocasión

de lo mismo que culpáis….

¿O cuál es más de culpar,

aunque cualquiera mal haga:

la que peca por la paga

o el que paga por pecar?

(“Silly men who accuse women without reason, without seeing that you are the cause of that which you blame them for…. O which is more to blame, whatever the harm was done: she who sins for pay, or he who pays to sin?”)

Well, France has just decided, through its National Assembly, that demand is morally more reprehensible than supply, at least where prostitution is concerned. It has passed a law, similar to those passed in a few other countries such as Sweden, criminalizing the patronage of prostitutes. Patrons will be fined and sent to an education course on the harms of prostitution. The supply side will not be criminalized, however, because the suppliers—those who in right-thinking publications such as the world’s leading medical journals are now called sex workers—are considered victims.

Reading about the new law took me back to my happy days living in a provincial English city, in an area into which, every night, a pimp, or a pimp’s employee, would bring in a bevy of drug-addicted prostitutes in a bus, who would then stand on the street corner and wait for clients. (If prostitutes are sex workers, what are pimps in the new language? Sex work human resources managers?)

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