I warned you all that Les Mis would be making a few more blog appearances, and today just happens to be one of those occasions, as we think a little about the tragic story of one of my favourite characters: Fantine.
If you don’t know her story, and you don’t mind me spoiling it for you, then allow me to summarise. If you don’t know her story, and you don’t want me to spoil it for you then I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop reading, right about… now.
We first meet Fantine working in a factory alongside a number of other women, none of whom particularly care for this young and pretty colleague of theirs. The factory is owned by the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer (Jean Valjean, in disguise), but is run by a disgusting lech of a man, who is constantly trying to seduce Fantine. It turns out that Fantine has a daughter, Cosette, whose father abandoned them both, and when the other women in the factory find out, a fight breaks out and Fantine ends up being fired and thrown out on the street. From here, the story goes from bad to worse, with Fantine selling jewellery, then her hair, then her teeth, and then her body, before she dies of TB.
At the point that Fantine first leaves the factory and goes to sell the first of her possessions, she makes her way down to the docks where the prostitutes gather, and her descent is framed by a song that they sing, entitled, Lovely Ladies. The song is coarse, and usually played for a couple of laughs, mostly so that at its end, the audience is so much more shocked by the change in mood. Volume and speed drop, and the women sing softly and sadly, until only Fantine is left to finish, as she leads her first customer away:
Come on, Captain, you can wear your shoes.Don’t it make a change, to have a girl who can’t refuseEasy money, lying on a bedJust as well they never see the hate that’s in your headDon’t they know they’re making love to one already dead!
Prostitution is, so they say, the oldest profession in the world. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the fact that it could be is one of the saddest things I know. Turning a beautiful gift from God into something cheap, and meaningless, and throwaway, is heartbreaking, but then one realises that ‘prostitution’ itself is not as sad as the millions and millions of women who are those who are doing the prostituting.
Apparently the number of women in Britain involved in prostitution is around 80,000, with only 19% of those having been born in Britain. A lot of those foreign women will have been trafficked, specifically for the sex trade (some by ‘choice’, but many not), but that word ‘choice’ is a funny one, isn’t it? Yes, I suppose some women do ‘choose’ to be prostitutes, but not in a ‘I wonder if I’ll be a teacher, a nurse, or a prostitute when I grow up’ kind of way. No, this is choice borne of desperation.
Here are some prostitution-related statistics for you:
- 75% of women involved in prostitution started when they were younger than 18.
- People who were victims of sexual abuse as children are 27.7 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution as adults than non-victims.
- Women in prostitution are 18 times more likely to be murdered than members of the general population.
- 70% of prostitutes have a history of being in care.
- 87% of women in street-based prostitution use heroin.
- 92% of prostitutes stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately.
Yes, these are stats, and stats can be misleading, or hyperbolic. But, I’m inclined to believe them, and to believe the stories of the real-live Fantines, and wonder what part I should be playing in helping.
Any ideas? I’d gladly hear them.
In summary: heartbroken for those who have to make that kind of ‘choice’.