The French government has launched a €14 million plan to try and fight underage prostitution which has grown considerably in the last few years via social media.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 young people in France are believed to be involved in prostitution and the majority are young girls between 15 and 17, according to the report which inspired the government to act.
The numbers concerned have increased by as much as 70 percent over the last five years, and were further boosted during the Covid epidemic when many young people found themselves at home in front of computers.
“Covid played a considerable role because social networking provided new ways of being able to hook in underage girls very easily,” Geneviève Collas, coordinator of a collective fighting human trafficking, told RFI.
One of the challenges is that this 2.0 version is less visible and therefore more difficult to tackle than prostitution on the streets. "Recruitment is easier," says Collas, adding that the venues such as flats, Air'n'B rentals and hotels out of town add to the invisibility.
The €14 million government programme, led by the Secretary of State for Children Adrien Taquet, aims to "increase awareness, inform and provide a better understanding of the phenomenon; help identify the young people involved; accompany them better, and prosecute clients and pimps more effectively."
Sex-working young girls is a lucrative affair with pimps earning up to €1,500 a day, Christophe Molmy – head of the Brigade for the protection of minors – told France info.
All social backgrounds
While many of the youngsters involved in prostitution had been confronted with violence at home, including "incest, abuse, insecurity and alcoholism, they come from all social backgrounds," Collas explains.
A common trigger is a difficult parental split prompting the youngster to run away from home. In need of money and a place to stay she falls prey to bad company and either slides or is actively groomed into sex working.
In other cases, a boyfriend may pimp his girlfriend or publish nude photos of her on social media making her vulnerable to blackmail.
The report highlighted however that the girls don't always see themselves as victims and may refer to prostitution as 'hooking' or 'escorting' which they see as having a more positive edge. They will also tend to use vocabulary from the world of work such as contracts, recruitment and job interviews.
"There’s really a normalisation of prostitution of young people because girls say that selling sex is a way of making lots of money easily and that it can help them reach their dream life," Raphaelle Wach, deputy public prosecutor at the tribunal of Creteil told France 24.
While some of these girls prostitute themselves only occasionally, Collas insists “it will mark them for life”.