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French prostitutes oppose reopening brothels

One French lawmaker wants to open pleasure houses to protect sex workers.

For Alain Plumey, a 62-year-old erotic art collector whose Museum of Eroticism contains substantial documentation on the brothels of the 19th and 20th centuries, it is no surprise that the debate over reopening the pleasure houses is resurfacing, as it does every few years.

“The more difficult life is, the more prostitution is practiced,” he said “And right now, life is difficult.”

Surrounded by memorabilia from the permanent exhibit detailing the history of brothels in France, Plumey spouted out facts while pointing to a register from the early 1940s that itemized how many clients or “passes” one prostitute had in a day. When the description of “Jewish” was noted in the log, he said it meant that a Star of David the client wore was used to identify him. Most houses had one black prostitute or a woman who walked with a limp — exotic qualities to clients. By 1946, the brothels had closed indefinitely after experiencing years of stricter police controls.

Plumey’s 13-year-old museum, located in the heart of the red light district near the Moulin Rouge cabaret, is also filled with phallic artifacts and sculptures from all over the world, vintage pornographic films as well as modern art with a sexual theme. But the permanent exhibit on brothels, which occupies the entire second floor of the seven-story museum, is an essential feature because the subject fascinates, he said. “Tariffed sexual relations equally belong to the domain of fantasy and eroticism.”

The government proposal to reopen the establishments is problematic on many fronts, Plumey said.

He called it “total nonsense” that the simple act of idling too long in a certain location can land someone in jail for solicitation. But stepping in to run the brothels would put the government on the wrong side of the law, since pimping is illegal.

No government has ever been able to eradicate prostitution, a profession most people practice out of necessity and not out of choice. Stamping out poverty or at least devoting more time to analyzing the subject in the press might be a step in the right direction, he said.

“We have to treat the causes, not the effects,” Plumey said. “Politicians pretend to treat the effects without taking care of the causes.”