PARIS: The trial of former French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn and several businessmen on pimping charges has shone a light on the world of high-end prostitution in which sex is often used to sweeten business deals.
“I was considered a VIP and offered as a gift to the heads of companies and politicians,” said Carole, 41, a former prostitute who worked the champagne bars and brothels of Belgium, where the trade is legal, until 2013.
She spoke to Agence France-Presse ahead of the high-profile trial in Lille in northern France of Strauss-Kahn, once head of the International Monetary Fund.
He is being tried from Monday (Tuesday in Manila) along with 13 others for their alleged part in a wide-ranging prostitution ring used by local businessmen and police officials.
“Companies, sometimes big international ones, would come to see us to ask if a girl could be offered as a present,” she said.
She recalls a car company that wanted to sell three trucks to a local business: “I had to do whatever was necessary to make sure he signed,” she said.
Eric Dupond-Moretti, a lawyer for one of the defendants in this week’s trial, says “call-girls are 80 percent, maybe 70 percent of the time solicited” to conclude business deals.
The practice is particularly prevalent in professions where corruption and bribes are common, said Jean-Sebastien Mallet, an expert on the prostitution sector, highlighting “construction, import-export and the energy sector.”
“In some Arab countries, a businessman who doesn’t have a girl in his bedroom will refuse to sign a contract,” he said.
Sex can also be used to exert pressure. Carole said she was often sent as a “honeytrap” to seduce men in their hotels, creating the possibility of blackmail down the line.
The girls for these top-end clients tend to come from relatively comfortable backgrounds.
“They are clearly not poor young Romanians. Most work for networks of brothels or Internet escort companies,” said Yves Charpenel, head of anti-prostitution group Fondation Scelles.
“But even if the prices are higher, 75 percent goes to the traffickers,” Charpenel said.
Monday’s trial is not the first high-profile trial for pimping. In 1995, renowned Italian designer Francesco Smalto was convicted after sending a number of suits to Gabon’s President Omar Bongo along with a group of call girls.
But getting prosecutions can be difficult, since it tends to rely on prostitutes coming forward as witnesses.
Gregoire Thery, from Mouvement du Nid, a support network for sex workers, says the girls giving evidence in this week’s trial have faced threats and pressure to back out.
He adds that the common practice of using prostitutes to conclude business deals has an added pernicious effect: creating another obstacle to gender equality in the workplace.
“When contracts are being concluded in a brothel or a hotel bedroom, it’s a job for the guys,” he added.