France National Team members Karim Benzema and Frank Ribery are set to stand trial for soliciting an underage prostitute.
Every now and then I come across a bit of news that stumps me, in that I honestly don’t how how to form an opinion about it. One might simply pass those bits on, since it might seem counterintuitive to even begin to write on a topic about which one is ambivalent. Or perhaps a better word in this case is vexed: confused to the point of frustration because of a logical impasse.
I am referring in this case to the little story (buried on most sites) about French international footballers Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery set to stand trial for allegedly soliciting the same underage prostitute in 2008 and ‘09, respectively. I include the qualifier “underage” because it’s germane to the supposed crime; prostitution is legal in France for those over the age of 18.
And so, here I am, confronted with a story that tugs at my tendency to side with Nietzsche about the blurred and turbid nature of institutionalized morality writ large, but also one that just seems, on the face of it, obviously disgusting as a manifestation of power relations and commodified sexuality. That is, the two men in question claim to have not known her age at the time (16), and if she didn’t tell them or lied about her age (she has admitted that they didn’t know her age), and it’s legal otherwise, then accepting money for such an act should qualify for consent.
Or should it? These acts don’t happen in vacuum. The power dynamic in 99% of these situations dictates that “consent” should be a term used loosely. If we accept that she’s not old enough to consent, or that prostitution puts people (mostly women) in a situation where consent is an illusion, then the logical conclusion is that these men raped the woman in question, and, if found guilty, could face three years in prison or a £35,000 fine.
So, my dilemma remains unresolved, after writing four paragraphs that part of me didn’t even want to write. I’m not arguing, as I once have, that prostitution should be legal (because of the detrimental side-effects of its illegality, much like those of the War on Drugs, cf. The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison by Jeffrey Reiman), nor am I arguing that it’s morally wrong 100% of the time (what are most marriages, after all, other than an exchanges of property, favors, status, inheritance, etc. for a contractual amount of sex time?). Therefore, I’m forced to argue a non-position, which doesn’t quite sit well with me, but there it is.
Are Benzema and Ribery guilty? Technically—legally—yes, they are, if the evidence against them holds up. Is there a grey area to this situation? There most definitely is. What do I think of this case? No comment.