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Art, politics mix at first French sex worker festival

Documentaries, photos and a "full service" performance tent were on display on Sunday at France's first festival for sex workers aimed to promote their rights and fight a new law on prostitution

Paris (AFP)

Documentaries, photographs and a "full service" performance tent were on display at the weekend at France's first festival for sex workers aiming to promote their rights and criticise a prostitution law.

The Paris "Snap!" festival's militant approach sought to increase political visibility for prostitutes with exhibitions and performances with titles such as "Whores and Feminists" and "Sex Work Is Work".

"We are trying to create our own discourse as artists and sex workers," said Marianne Chargois, whose documentary "Empower" tackles the precarious lives and discrimination faced by three prostitutes.

"Self-proclaimed specialists constantly make laws on our behalf and want to 'save us' from our activities as sex workers."

A French law in April 2016 introduced harsher penalties for clients of prostitutes of up to 1,500 euros ($1,700) and more than double that amount in the case of repeat offenders.

"This law has lowered the income of sex workers and increased the violence against them," said Thierry Schaffauser, a spokesperson for Strass, the sex workers union and one of the organisers of the festival in Point Ephemere, north Paris.

Violence against sex workers made headlines in France in August when transgender sex worker Vanesa Campos was killed in Paris's Bois de Boulogne.

Schaffauser said the law had forced sex workers to meet clients in more isolated places away from police where they are more exposed to attacks.

"As long as there is no decriminalisation of sex work, nothing will change," said Maia Izzo-Foulquier, curator of the photo exhibition at the festival.

Strass and other associations and sex workers have filed an appeal questioning the law's constitutionality. The request will be examined on Monday.

But beyond legal questions, the festival also reflected on the nature of sex as work.

Swiss performer Daniel Hellmann set up his tent at the festival entrance with a sign promising "full service".

"It can range from fellatio to writing a poem or some spiritual advice. We agree in advance on the price and the delivery of service," he said.

"The idea is to question our relationship to work, and I am not talking about only sex work."

"Talking about sex work makes us more visible said Mia, a sex worker from western France. "This festival shows we are not just sex machines."

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