French Senate overturns bill to punish prostitutes’ clients

Asian prostitutes in Paris protest the proposed bill that would outlaw their activity
Asian prostitutes in Paris protest the proposed bill that would outlaw their activity JACQUES DEMARTHON, AFP

The French Senate, dominated by the opposition conservatives since September, has overturned a proposed law on prostitution that sought to penalise clients instead of sex workers.


The Senate’s legislation completely revises a bill passed by France's lower National Assembly in 2013 that never took effect.

Prostitution is currently legal in France, but prostitutes are often arrested and charged for soliciting in public, which is prohibited.

Brothels, pimping and the sale of sex by minors are also illegal.

The 2013 bill proposed to introduce a 1,500-euro fine for buyers and decriminalise soliciting, known in France as racolage.

But under the new bill passed by the Senate overnight Monday, prostitutes would continue to face fines of up to 3,750 euros and two months in prison for selling sex, while the previous provision of fining clients would be dropped.

The Senate’s revised bill will have to be approved by the National Assembly before it can go into law.

Both versions of the legislation have drawn fierce opposition from sex workers who say they would simply push prostitution further underground and make the women who earn their living from it more vulnerable to abuse.

Hundreds of prostitutes – many South American and Chinese, and many wearing masks – took to the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest the proposed laws.

"Prostitution is legal in France," said Franceline Lepany, who advocates for sex workers' rights. "This bill seeks to even further stigmatise prostitutes."

"We must go after the mafia, not these women," said Senator Esther Benbassa at Saturday's protest. "We have taken a step backwards. And all this to give society a veneer of morality."

The move to decriminalise prostitution and put the responsibility on clients was inspired by similar legislation on the books since 1999 in Sweden.

France's government argues that the 2013 bill would help prevent violence against women and protect the large majority of prostitutes who are victims of trafficking gangs.

However, the legislation sparked a fierce debate in France over whether criminalising prostitutes' clients would have the effect of reducing the sex trade.

Sweden's anti-prostitution law, which exposes clients to possible six-month prison terms and income-related fines, has reduced street prostitution by half since it was adopted, but it is not clear how much of that trade has simply moved to the Internet.

There are an estimated 30,000 sex workers in France, more than 80 percent of whom come from abroad. According to the interior ministry, most are from Eastern Europe, Africa, China and South America.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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