• France's news in English
 

France set for new law to fine clients of prostitutes

Published: 27 Nov 2013 08:44 GMT+01:00

A divisive bill that punishes the clients of prostitutes is due to go before lawmakers in France's National Assembly on Wednesday, in the latest controversial social reform by President Francois Hollande's government.

The bill, which the government says is aimed at preventing violence against women, has come under fire from celebrities like Catherine Deneuve and Charles Aznavour, as well as leading intellectuals and prostitutes themselves. 

Spearheaded by Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the law will fine clients of prostitutes €1,500 ($2,025) for a first offence and double that for repeat offenders.

Prostitution itself is legal in France but soliciting, pimping and minors selling sex, are prohibited. The government estimates that between 20,000 and 40,000 prostitutes operate in France, at least 80 percent of whom are from abroad.

Several hundred prostitutes marched through the streets of Paris to denounce the plan last month, waving placards reading: "Punishing Clients = Killing Prostitutes" and "We're Whores and We're Proud!"

Sex workers' union Strass argues the measure will hurt prostitutes by driving the practice further underground.

“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,” Manon, a 26-year-old, who has worked as a prostitute in the city of Toulouse for the last five years, told The Local.

“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." (Click below to read more of what Manon had to say)

Opinion: Should France fine people caught buying sex?

Supporters of the bill point out that it also proposes a series of measures to assist prostitutes, especially those trafficked to France, including easier access to working papers, housing and financial support.

Hélène de Rugy, from Amicale du Nid, a group which offers support to sex workers, is backing the bill.

"With prostitution, there are no sellers and buyers, only victims and perpetrators," she told The Local.

The new legislation would also overturn Nicolas Sarkozy's 2003 ban on "passive soliciting", which was also deemed to have made life more dangerous for sex workers because it pushed them out of city-centre streets to more isolated locations.

Many were forced to wear casual clothing, like jeans and trainers, to disguise their activity. 

"Hands off my whore"

Opponents of the bill, however, say its punitive nature is a step too far and intrudes on the private lives of French citizens.

In a series of open letters, celebrities and cultural figures have urged the government to reconsider the plan.

About 60 people, including Deneuve, Aznavour and former culture minister Jack Lang published an open letter this month opposing the bill and calling for "a real debate" on prostitution "without ideological prejudice".

Another more contentious letter published last month and entitled "Hands off my whore!", declared: "When parliament gets involved in adopting rules on sexuality, everyone's freedom is threatened."

The letter was controversially dubbed the "Manifesto of the 343 Bastards", echoing another text published in 1971 by 343 women declaring they had had an abortion when it was still illegal in France.

Surprising some, among the most vocal opponents of the bill has been the philosopher and feminist Elisabeth Badinter, who has pleaded that "the state has no place legislating on individual sexual activity."

Badinter said she saw no direct link between male sexuality and violence against women, accusing some of having "a stereotypical view that is very negative and moralistic and which I reject."

"We welcome the position taken by France"

Her remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Health Minister Marisol Touraine.

"Feminism cannot accept that... the great majority of women prostitutes are subjected to violence and exploitation on a daily basis," Touraine said.

The progress of the bill will be watched closely from anti-prostitution groups outside France.

"The position taken by the French government, which qualifies prostitution as a form of violence against women and an obstacle to gender equality, reflects a strong political will to put an end to this violation of women's rights and dignity," Andrea Matolcsi, Trafficking Officer for London-based group "Equality Now" told The Local.
 
"We cannot but welcome and applaud this policy approach."
 
"Abolishing the system of prostitution is the best way to address the structural inequalities between women and men and at the same time effectively tackle trafficking for sexual exploitation," Matolcsi added.
 
The bill comes as Europe is also in the midst of a wider debate over prostitution, which is legal in several countries on the continent.

A decade after Germany legalized prostitution, dozens of politicians, actors and journalists this month signed an appeal to Chancellor Angela Merkel and parliament to abolish sex work.

Critics say that Germany's legalization of prostitution has backfired, turning the country into a "paradise for pimps" who have exploited women from central and eastern European countries.

Don't miss stories about France, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Calais migrants
Ending Calais migrants crisis is 'top priority'
French gendarmes stand facing a group of seated migrants as they block their way in the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles near Calais. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Ending Calais migrants crisis is 'top priority'

France and Britain vowed on Sunday that ending a crisis which has seen thousands of attempts by migrants to reach England from Calais in recent weeks is a "top priority". READ  

Réunion wreckage
Plane door found on Réunion in MH370 hunt
Local volunteers search for more potential plane debris and items on the shore in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Photo: Ouissem Gombra / Imaz Press Renuion / AFP

Plane door found on Réunion in MH370 hunt

A door of a plane has washed up ashore on the Indian Ocean's French Réunion island days after a wing component of a Boeing 777 was found, raising hopes in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. READ  

Calais migrants
Eurotunnel migrant activity down overnight
Photo: Philippe Huguen/ AFP

Eurotunnel migrant activity down overnight

French police said on Saturday some 300 migrants in Calais attempted to reach Britain via the cross-Channel tunnel overnight, a significant drop from previous nights as the security presence is beefed up. READ  

Reunion wreckage
Possible MH370 plane part arrives in France
The plane part arriving in Paris on Saturday morning. Photo: Richard Bouhet / AFP

Possible MH370 plane part arrives in France

A piece of Boeing 777 wreckage that washed up on an Indian Ocean island arrived for analysis in France early Saturday, after Malaysian authorities said the part was almost certainly recovered from missing flight MH370. READ  

Calais Migrants
Migrant: 'France will protect me more than UK'
Migrants building a home in the New Jungle in Calais. Photo: AFP

Migrant: 'France will protect me more than UK'

While the intense media coverage of Calais might suggest that all migrants there want to make it to the UK, an increasing number of them are now actually choosing to stay in France. READ  

Reunion wreckage
Experts confirm Réunion debris is Boeing 777
People comb the beaches of Réunion looking for more plane wreckage. Photo: AFP

Experts confirm Réunion debris is Boeing 777

Malaysian authorities confirmed on Friday that plane wreckage washed up on France's island of Réunion was from a Boeing 777, meaning the part is almost certainly from missing flight MH370. READ  

France names capital cities for new regions
Here is the full list of the new proposed capitals. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

France names capital cities for new regions

French officials have revealed their suggestions for the capital cities of the country's newest regions. But not everyone is happy about the choices. READ  

French roads set for 'Black Saturday' jams
Authorities are recommending people to delay their journeys until Sunday. Photo: Philippe Desmazes/ AFP

French roads set for 'Black Saturday' jams

Planning to head out to the countryside this weekend? Beware, the roads will be hit by millions of French motorists taking off for their August break. READ  

Striking French seamen block Calais port
Striking employees of the My Ferry Link company block the access to the port of Calais. Photo: AFP

Striking French seamen block Calais port

Hundreds of French sailors blocked the city of Calais Friday, using burning tyres to prevent access to the port in the midst of the peak holiday travel period. READ  

French court says 'non' to new cockfighting pits
France hopes to be able to stamp out cockfighting altogether eventually. Photo: Jean-Michel Andre/ AFP

French court says 'non' to new cockfighting pits

France's top court on Friday upheld a ban on new cockfighting pits, as the country seeks to stamp out the ancient bloodsport that continues in some regions despite being banned in most parts of the world. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Réunion's plane debris to be probed in France
Ten things you didn't know about Gay Paris
France eyes boost to holiday leave rights
Business & Money
French dating sites 'not protecting client privacy'
Features
Learn more about the Bayonne festival - France's wildest party
Features
What's on in France: Ten things to do in August
Features
What to see and do at the Paris Plages this summer
Saudi royals 'bar' French policewomen from beach
Take a closer look at the 560,000-year-old tooth found in France
National
Swiss army pilfers French water to give to thirsty cows
National
'B**ch' and 'brainless': French shop slurs clients
Travel
French cops rebel over order to give kids sweets
National
New measures to stop migrant deaths in Calais
Travel
Here are some of the most ridiculous comments you'll read about France
Features
Life may be about to get easier for expats settling in France
National
Burning tyres and blocking roads is just the way the French do strikes
National
Muslim tourists visiting French Alps are reminded of burqa ban
Opinion
Slim and chic: Are French women fed up of the stereotypes?
French officials defend handing public beach over to Saudi royals
Society
French kiss: Should expats in France do 'la bise' among themselves?
National
Paris commuters and tourists face summer of travel trouble
This man learnt the entire French vocabulary in nine weeks, but why?
French speed cameras snare tens of thousands of British drivers
Gallery
What kind of expat in France are you: A lover or a loather?
Society
French tweeters reveal the trials and tribulations of #GrowingupFrench
Where to find the best (and worst) quality of life in France
National
Riviera rumpus as Saudi royals grab public beach all for themselves
What we know about France's foiled terror plot
Features
Here are ten places in Paris where you can escape the summer heat
National
Coup d'état fails in France after being snubbed by military
Are shoppers in northern France the most honest in the world?
French woman fined €90 for driving in flip-flops
Cyclists in Paris get the green light to jump red
'Adieu France': Angry mum's parting rant goes viral
Franco-German rift opens over Greece and it could take time to heal
The Megavalanche: The most spectacular cycling event in France
Ex-French PM's daughter creates a buzz by going topless for photo shoot
Could Parisians be bathing in the Seine by 2024?
Paris unveils new mobile app to help non-French speakers
France declares war on public transport sex pests
So where's the best place to live in France if you want to be happy?
Opinion
Paris: The City of Light, Romance, Style and the worst loos in Europe?
National
Eight ways living in France will change your lifestyle for good
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,621
jobs available