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Sex workers' anger over new plan to fine clients

Ben McPartland · 19 Sep 2013, 10:37

Published: 19 Sep 2013 10:37 GMT+02:00

The report's proposals, that are expected to form the basis of new legislation, seek to punish clients of prostitutes by hitting them with heavy fines. According to the report's author the aim is deter “pimping networks and human trafficking” as well as reduce violence towards sex workers.

For a client’s first offence they will be subject to a €1,500 fine and if caught reoffending the customer will risk six months in prison and a financial penalty of €7,500.

“Prostitutes are victims and should not be treated like criminals,” argued author of the report, the socialist MP Maud Olivier. “We are going to turn the law on its head.”

As well as reducing violence used towards prostitutes, the new law “is intended to educate, and to get it into the general mind-set that it is not normal to pay for sexual services.”

“We need to destroy the idea that prostitution is a happy trade,” Olivier added. “The idea is to reduce prostitution by reducing demand.”

Olivier says there are an estimated 40,000 sex workers in France, 80 percent of whom are women and 90 percent are immigrants.

Despite seemingly having the best interests of sex workers at heart, a prostitute and spokeswoman for the sex workers’ union Strass, told The Local this week that her job will become a lot more dangerous in future if the proposals become law.

“The prostitutes will be forced to work in remote places, hidden away so as not to risk being discovered by the police. This will simply mean they will be more exposed to violence, theft and rape,” said Manon, a 26-year-old, who has worked as a sex worker in the city of Toulouse for the last five years.

“It will also be more difficult for aid associations and charities etc to contact the prostitutes so it will be harder for them to try to prevent risky practices, or identify sex workers who may be in trouble and help them get access to housing etc.

“It is already difficult to go to the police and make a complaint and this law would make it even harder. Those who attack or rape prostitutes know this and the number of attacks and rapes will only increase".

'We are treated like lunatics'

Manon says the French government are failing to listen to the needs of sex workers.

“We are being treated like lunatics or like children who cannot speak up for themselves. We are are not being heard, despite the fact that many organisations agree with what we are saying.

“This proposal will lead to a reduction in the number of customers, because they will be worried about being caught by the police. So those on a lower income will risk accepting their client’s requirements which can be dangerous, such as not using condoms.

“This may encourage prostitutes to employ a third person, to watch over them and make sure they are not attacked, so it is actually encouraging pimping not reducing it,” she said.

Manon claims the law will have the same “disastrous” consequences as former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2003 legislation against 'passive soliciting'.

The law 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.

The new legislation would overturn that law if it is adopted by parliament.

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,” said France's Minister for Women's Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem earlier this year.

Vallaud-Belkacem said shortly after taking up post that she wanted prostitution to disappear and has made it her mission to improve equality in France. But Manon says the minister's policy on prostitution will actually harm many women.

“Talking about égalité is all well and nice but this will make it worse for women and will push more of them into poverty. Where will they find the money to live from? They will be forced to take unemployment benefits, which will simply cost the government more money.”

Instead of being targeted with punitive laws Manon says the government should be making it easier for her to work safely by allowing here to rent an apartment where she can work.

“We want to be treated like any other workers," she said. “We are no different.”

What do you think about the proposed law. Is it the right way to go?

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Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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