French resistance

Prostitutes in Lyon are upset at the invasion of hookers from Eastern Europe.

By Jack Boulware

Published November 2, 2000 7:38PM (EST)

It's old news that half a million women and girls enter Western Europe each year from impoverished nations, hoping to work as prostitutes. According to a United Nations report last year, the worldwide trend adds up to a $7 billion industry. An estimated 500,000 Russians and eastern Europeans work in the red-light districts of Germany. Six out of 10 sex workers in Britain's inner cities are illegal immigrants, and in Italy more than 40,000 foreign prostitutes reportedly work the streets.

And in France? Local hookers are asking their nation's biggest politician to kick out the foreigners.

Sex workers in Lyon have seen too many eastern European women infiltrate the red-light districts and steal away their customers. No business concern likes to see clients poached -- it doesn't make economic sense. Prostitutes complained to police and public prosecutors, but after getting no response, they got even more organized.

Last week a group of 500 prostitutes and transvestites faxed an official letter to Lionel Jospin, the prime minister of France, calling for action on the matter. (Jospin has not yet responded.) And then they held a press conference.

"This has been going on for a year," said a prostitute named Evelyne. "We have written to the governor, we have written to the prosecutor, but we have got nothing. The state must do something to stop this invasion."

Another prostitute, Michele, stressed that eastern European competitors, especially from Albania, were taking 80 percent of the business, noting that Albanians are protected by their status as political refugees.

"If the French government didn't give them papers, they wouldn't come here," Evelyne told reporters. "How can they get visas when they have no jobs and no homes?"

She did acknowledge at one point that the foreign prostitutes are "younger and fresher."

Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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