Prostitutes are hardly a rarity on the streets of Paris, but a new development may mean that many more will be plying their trade in the capital in future. Minister of Women's Rights Najat Belkacem-Vallaud promised this week to push ahead with a move to scrap legislation that made passive soliciting for sex illegal.
The law, first introduced in 2003, pushed many prostitutes out of city centre streets to more isolated locations. Many were forced to wear casual clothing, like jeans and trainers, to disguise their activity.
French President François Hollande had promised to overturn the law as part of his election manifesto last year.
“We will stick to this commitment for one simple reason, because the introduction of this crime of passive soliciting has made the prostitutes the guilty party, when in fact 90 percent of them are victims of human trafficking,” Belkacem told French daily Le Parisien.
Her statement follows a protest in the French capital at the weekend by sex workers demanding an end to the 10-year-old law, which they say has exposed prostitutes to more violence and increased the price of sexual services.
“To escape the attention of the police, they go far away from city centres and the accompanying support structures, and they are more exposed to violence,” Belkacem acknowledged.
The move could be seen as a change in heart by the 35-year-old minister towards ‘the oldest profession in the world’, after she previously said her main mission after being appointed to government was to make prostitution "disappear".
The controversial law was brought in in 2003 by the government of then President Jacques Chirac and banned anyone from “publicly soliciting others to encourage them to exchange money for sex, by any means, even passively.” Those caught in the act faced fines of €3,750 and a spell behind bars.
The repeal of the law will be debated in the Senate on March 28th.
“Deleting the crime does not mean impunity for human traffickers,” Belkacem vowed. “We will take strong action against these networks.”
The minister promised there would be more legislation with regard to prostitution before the end of the year.
“We will work with a number of lawmakers, left and right, to develop a full, comprehensive law on prostitution and human trafficking,” she said.
Belkacem added that “targeting the clients” was one of the options on the table.
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In December 2011 a motion was passed in the French parliament that supported criminalising the act of paying for sex.
The motion said France should seek “a society without prostitution” and that sex work “should in no case be designated as a professional activity”.
Fines of €3,000 and prison sentences of up to six months were put forward as appropriate punishments for clients caught exchanging money for sex.
However, a bill was never put before lawmakers.