News / Europe

French Lawmakers Back New Prostitution Law

Sex worker activists and prostitutes protest a proposal to scrap sanctions on soliciting and instead punish prostitutes' customers with fines in Paris, Nov. 29, 2013.
Sex worker activists and prostitutes protest a proposal to scrap sanctions on soliciting and instead punish prostitutes' customers with fines in Paris, Nov. 29, 2013.
The French lower house of parliament passed a reform of prostitution law on Wednesday imposing fines on clients, a shift to tougher rules which has split the country and angered some sex workers.

Lawmakers voted 268 in favor and 138 against to give France some of the most restrictive legislation on prostitution in Europe - a radical switch away from the nation's traditionally tolerant attitude.

Those seeking to buy sex will now face a 1,500 euro ($2,000) fine, while the act of soliciting itself will no longer be punished.

Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who has championed the reform, argued that prostitution in any form is unacceptable and said the aim of President Francois Hollande's Socialist government was to suppress the trade altogether.

Proponents of the reform point to rising human trafficking as a reason for tightening rules. Some 90 percent of France's estimated 20,000 to 40,000 prostitutes are victims of Nigerian, Chinese and Romanian trafficking networks, the government says.

That is a jump from just over a decade ago when only one in five prostitutes were foreign and mafia rings were much less omnipresent.

Yet the reform has exposed divisions in French society just months after Hollande's government faced down a series of giant street protests over legislation legalizing gay marriage.

Fellow ministers including Interior Minister Manuel Valls have expressed reservations about being able to apply the law as it stands. Hollande's Green coalition allies voted against, as did the opposition center-right UMP members.

Some prostitutes say the law, which must also pass through the Senate upper house for a vote early next year, will rob them of their livelihood.

“Already, in the past two weeks we have felt the pinch,” said a woman calling herself Sarah, who works in the Bois de Boulogne, a center for prostitution on the outskirts of Paris.

“The clients aren't coming... and the few clients that do come all ask me the same questions: 'Is the law going through? What are we going to do?”'

Legislation in France lies somewhere between laws in the Netherlands and Germany, where registered sex workers pay taxes and receive health benefits, and Sweden, where clients are already targeted.

But as France considers adopting a much tougher attitude, prostitution in Germany has become a heated political issue once again - 11 years after the country decriminalized prostitution and gave sex workers legal status that allowed them to get health insurance and pensions.

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Comment Sorting
by: Adrian
December 07, 2013 1:32 AM
Yet another country's fall for Sharia and radical feminism.

by: winston1952 from: USA
December 05, 2013 7:51 AM
Why is prostitution against the law? Where is the crime when two adults agree to have sex in exchange for money? This isn’t trafficking, which isn’t a sex crime but is a human rights abuse. Those forced into sex workshould not be charged with prostitution but should be rescued from the traffickers. These laws allow too many dehumanize sex workers. If they aren't looked on as having the same rights as the rest of society then those who prey on women find easy targets in sex workers. This attitude needs to change we need to see sex workers as people with the same wants and needs and rights as the rest of society.

There is a more important consideration than legalization. Today sex workers and their customers are marginalized and viewed through a distorted lens. They are dehumanized and as a consequence it is too easy to take advantage of or abuse them. We need to recognize they are members of our society with the same wants and needs as everyone. Many if not most add to society in a positive manner, paying taxes, raising families adding to the economy etc.

Prostitution has been around forever and will be with us forever as well. We need to change our approach. Many escorts are in the business voluntarily and are contributing members of society. They pay taxes raise children and contribute to the economy. Yet they are forced to live outside of society. They live at risk of robbery assault rape (yes rape) and murder without recourse to protection under the law. This needs to change.
In Response

by: BubbetteOfTheNorth from: Canada
December 07, 2013 1:48 AM
I think I can offer SOME kind of answer to your question: why is prostitution criminalized. I think it's a paternalistic attempt to protect young women (after all, most prostitutes do start young) from doing something that will likely damage their souls/psyches, and put them in physically dangerous situations (STDs, rape and violence). This motive is similar to that behind laws which criminalize underage smoking, or cocaine use.
The motive is not inherently dehumanizing, and may be quite compassionate. Anyone who has seen prostitution up close can tell you that it most often damages those women (or young men) who participate.
BUT, in the end, criminalizing it does not in fact prevent young women from entering into those situations, and only further isolates them making them even more vulnerable to the lurking dangers.
So let's separate the paternalism (which may be justified in spirit given the common outcomes), from the cost-benefit analysis of criminalization.
Sometimes we have to recognize the good faith efforts of those who would like to protect us, and acknowledge the justification of their concern, while rejecting "the medicine" they offer, simply on the grounds that it does not help (it may in fact hurt).
I think we can only have this conversation honestly if we first acknowledge the sad consequences of the job for so many sex workers. Dismissing them in favor of arguments about autonomy (e.g. "...two consenting adults...") ignores the authentic and compassionate rationale behind these laws.
I agree they do more harm than good, but they are not without justification because prostitution is not without its costs, to those who do the work, and to the society who cares for them.
It would be good to discuss these two things more honestly, admitting the harm of sex work, while also admitting the failure of criminalization.

by: Helen Korhonen from: Finnland
December 04, 2013 1:43 PM
It is not feminism it is racism. French think: "They have to be offers of human trafficking because they are immigrants". "They are all gangsters".

Women in Europe are also worried because men take more and more wives from other countries. Asian and African wives are more and more popular. The same women speak of human trafficking and bride trafficking.

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