French bill would criminalise paying for sex

Proposed legislation may outlaw paying for sex in France while giving prostitutes who are victims of sexual violence easier access to legal support. The preliminary text does not enjoy universal support.


Paying for sex in France may soon become a criminal offence, according to a forthcoming bill whose details were made public this week.

The proposed legislation would also overturn a 2003 law that penalises prostitutes overtly offering their services, rules that were intended to reduce the presence of sex workers in the streets but instead led prostitutes to “dress down” while plying their trade.

“We are going to turn the law on its head,” said Socialist Member of Parliament Maud Olivier, who authored a report that will be the basis of the bill. “Prostitutes are victims and should not be treated like criminals.”

“The law is intended to reduce violence towards prostitutes and to get it into the general mindset that paying for sexual services is not acceptable. We need to destroy the idea that prostitution is a happy trade,” she said, adding that of the estimated 40,000 sex workers in France, 80 percent are women and 90 percent are immigrants.

The bill, which is due to be debated by the National Assembly (lower house) and the Senate starting in November, sets out progressive fines of up to 1,500 euros for a first offence, to 7,500 euros and six months' imprisonment for repeat offenders.

It would also give prostitutes who are victims of sexual violence easier access to legal residency in France, while opening the doors to suing pimps who force them to sell their bodies.

The move was welcomed by campaign group “Mouvement du Nid”, an association that helps prostitutes find justice in the case of sexual violence and exploitation by criminal networks.

“Women who sell their bodies for sex are not harming anyone and they shouldn’t be seen as criminals,” said the Mouvement du Nid’s General Secretary Gregoire Thery.

“All the harm to the individuals involved and to society in general is committed by clients who are sexually violent towards prostitutes.

“This law will protect women. For the first time in French history it gives them the opportunity to tell clients who are violent or make unwelcome demands that they can be arrested and punished for committing an illegal act.”

'It will be a disaster'

The proposal does not have universal support, however, and organisations representing sex workers claim it would push prostitution further underground and subject women to increased risks.

AIDS advocacy group Act Up and French NGO Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) were among around 100 organisations who signed a petition against the proposition, arguing that it would "make prostitutes more vulnerable".

“Manon”, a Paris prostitute who is spokeswoman for the STRASS sex workers union, told FRANCE 24 the bill would “do exactly the opposite of what it is designed to achieve”.

“Prostitutes will have to work more clandestinely to protect their clients, putting them at greater danger of violence and further away from sexual health services,” she said.

“It also means a drop in the number of clients, making it harder for us to make a living,” she added. “This in turn means that punters will be in a stronger position to pressure prostitutes into doing things they don’t want to do, including having unprotected sex.

“They’re doing this in the name of women’s rights and it will be a disaster. It’s just a cheap political move that will do nothing but harm.”

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