21 JUNE 1975, Page 25

Crime and consequences

Whores' d'oeuvre

Lam Scarlet

Strumpets on strike? Of course there are people about naive enough to think that it couldn't happen here.

But they'd be wrong:And as in everything else pertaining to prostitution, it has taken the French to show us just how wrong.

Earlier this month the ladies of Lyons withdrew from their manoeuvres horizontales in protest against sustained victimisation by • the local cops. They said they were being arrested several times a day and fined sums far larger than they could afford to pay. They accused senior officials of requiring not only backhanders but free entertainment whenever the fancy took them. They appealed to Madame Francoise Giroud, the Minister for Women's Affairs, to intervene on their behalf and, when she failed to respond sympathetically, went over her head to President Giscard himself. They called on their sisters in other cities to show solidarity and, in the meanwhile, occupied several churches.

Predictably, they got a great deal of publicity. Rather less predictably, most of it was very good publicity. Newspaper and magazine editorials came down heavily in their favour. The priests whose churches they'd occupied actually welcomed them.

But least predictable of all was public reaction. Even as Minister of

the Interior Poniatowsky was send ing cops and dogs to chase them out of the churches, France's leading opinion poll came out with the information that 80 per cent of the men of Lyons and 74 per cent of the women agreed that the prostitutes had been getting a raw deal and should in future be permitted to ply their trade unharassed.

There is evidence to suggest that the good burghers of Lyons were speaking for metropolitan France.

Less puritanical than ourselves and a good deal more practical, they have always recognised the inevi tability of prostitution and accepted it as one of the facts of life. Also they remember that while in 1789 others cringed behind locked doors, it was the harlots of Paris who paraded to Versailles to be the first to beard the king in his palace. In other words, French men and women alike have a bit of a soft spot for tarts.

Now I don't for one moment suggest that over this side of the Channel we have the same soft

spot But I do believe that we are much more inclined to jump to the

defence of victimised minorities.

We may not appreciate the sight of a bunch of girls touting for business on a street corner but we'd get very uppity indeed if we saw a baton-brandishing posse of cops sent in to round them up into a Black Maria. We may abhor the commodity they're offering for sale, but if there were . too few about (as in Cambridge, for instance) and the rape-rate suddenly went up, all hell would break loose (as indeed, in Cambridge).

Again, we may be hypocritical enough not to want to legalise brothels, but we're quite content to go along with a law which states quite categorically that it is not illegal for a woman 'to offer her body to indiscriminate lewdness for hire' — provided of course that she doesn't solicit in order to do just that. Which brings me back to the question of whether the harlots of England could ever stage a suc cessful strike. Until recently I would have doubted it. But now I'm sure of only one thing: if ever they banded together it wouldn't be in protest against police victimisation.

No, it would be in protest against victimisation by the censorioius self-appointed guardians of public morals who believe that what is right for them personally is right for everyone else regardless. For we live in an age of minority — yes, minority — backlash; an age in which any Tom, Dick or Mary Grundy can be so affected by the vicarious shock of hearing second hand about a naked nipple that they think they have a good case to take before the courts; and worse, an age in which our courts are actually taking these frustrated nit-wits seriously.

Of course, the people to whom I refer to are doing it in the cause of Stamping Out Pornography. But soon they will surely find out that, according to most dictionaries, the word 'pornography' means 'relating to harlots'.

Thus we can expect them to turn their attentions to our prostitutes in the not-too-distant future. When they do, I believe the victims will probably, strike back by taking strike action. And then I believe that Londoners will emulate the Lyonnais, and that other English men and women will quickly offer their support for the status quo in a second referendum. Vive le sport! lain Scarlet is the author of The Professionals: Prostitutes and their Clients (Sidgwick and Jackson)