In Lyon, the presence of prostitutes near children’s playgrounds is controversial

Published on January 13, 2023 at 8:45 am

The appearance of vans originates from the end of the 1990s, in the Confluence district, not far from the city center – © SIPA

Hide these vans I can’t see… Prostitutes parked in front of sports fields frequented by children have created controversy in Lyon, where elected officials and a group of parents chastised the environmental town hall, which refused to evict them.

“We have only one message, the safety of children! said Olivier M., member of a collective of about 200 parents of children who play and train in this “playground” in the district of Gerland. Along the street that borders this area, dozens of dented white vans watch the procession of customer cars that pass by at all hours.

“It’s really scary when the night comes: the children see people masturbating, women walking naked or making out in cars with open doors,” complained Olivier, whose son is 13 old

“One night, an 11-year-old girl was followed by a client, and a mother was asked for a service in front of the entrance of the stadium,” reports Laetitia B., also a member of the collective. “The kids even met a whore who showered in the locker room of the athletics field.” According to the collective created at the beginning of the school year, incidents are increasing. A petition to expel the prostitutes has garnered nearly 3,400 signatures.

“Merge not possible”

Asked by residents and elected representatives of the opposition, the town hall refused to evict prostitutes with anti-parking orders, a privileged lever under the time of former mayor Gérard Collomb (2001-2017 then 2018-2020 ). “This is tantamount to exposing them to violence,” said Mohamed Chihi, security assistant. Those elected prefer to “encourage associations and state services to help them get out of prostitution”, because according to him “a large part wants it”.

Meanwhile, the town hall relaunched the construction of a low wall covered by a planted grid along the playground. At the same time, the town council commissioned the Cabiria association, which works with prostitutes, to mediate. But the parents refused to compromise. “There is no possible cohabitation between children and prostitutes. These prostitutes must be moved”, insists Olivier M., describing the fence project as “cache-misère”.

“Prostitutes agree to discuss, for example the parking areas or the schedules of their activities, but the conversation takes two,” complained Antoine Baudry, from Cabiria. According to her, these women, mostly foreigners, “just want a quiet job”, while their daily life is already very difficult.

“They live, sleep, eat, wash and relieve themselves in their van and are often attacked. If we move them, they will be more vulnerable,” he pleaded, recalling the death of a girl found in his burnt van, in April 2021 in Meyzieu in the eastern suburbs of Lyon.

Pilar, a 37-year-old Equatorial Guinean prostitute who works near the playground, explains that she took a tear gas canister to respond to the “frequent” attacks.

Complex repression

The appearance of vans began at the end of the 1990s, in the Confluence district, not far from the city center. Activity was pushed back to Gerland in the mid-2000s, with impoundments, but recently the park has grown noticeably, said Olivier M.

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Faced with “the subject of tranquility and public health”, the Rhône prefecture explained that the national police are carrying out “from one to three customer control operations per week” in the area. A 2016 law eliminated the offense of passive solicitation and penalized customers, but it involved a flagrante delicto. In addition, investigations for “pimping and human trafficking” are underway. Because if it is difficult to check the proportion of prostitutes under duress, the sedans that sometimes deposit them in front of the vans at least testify to an organization, according to some sources.

Mr. Chihi calls on the State to strengthen the investigation method and the budgets for the support of prostitutes: “the subject deserves a humanist response, the most effective in a long time”. Olivier M., he appealed to Brigitte Macron, Ministry of the Interior and Defender of Rights to “fix the problem once and for all”. “We fear that a parent will go into shock or that there will be an attack,” he warned.

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