French lawmakers move to outlaw prostitution

French lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of outlawing prostitution in the country, setting the stage for the introduction of a bill that would impose fines and jail time for paying for sex.

French lawmakers move to outlaw prostitution
Stefan Andrej Shambora (File)

The move comes despite France’s long history of liberal attitudes toward sex and with the country gripped by coverage of a prostitution scandal involving former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been linked with a pimping ring operating out of luxury hotels in the northern city of Lille.

The non-binding resolution on the “abolition of prostitution”, drafted by a cross-party commission, was approved in a show of hands vote in the lower house National Assembly.

Lawmakers from the commission were expected to introduce a bill later on Tuesday or in the next few days to criminalise paying for sex.

The commission has recommended imposing sentences of up to six months in prison and a €3,000 ($4,000) fine on clients of prostitutes.

The resolution said France should seek “a society without prostitution” and that sex work “should in no case be designated as a professional activity”.

Guy Geoffroy of the ruling UMP party, a member of the commission, said earlier that passing the resolution would be “an important, symbolic and solemn step” in fighting prostitution.

“Nine prostitutes out of ten are victims of human trafficking,” he said.

Prostitution is not illegal in France though several linked activities are, including soliciting, procuring and operating a brothel, while paying for sex with someone under the age of 18 is banned.

Yves Charpenel, the head of the Fondation Scelles, a group that fights human trafficking and is among those demanding criminalisation, said it was unclear whether the bill on criminalisation would eventually be adopted.

“There is no consensus yet on this subject,” Charpenel said. “Will the deputies who vote for the abolitionist resolution then vote for its concrete application?”

“More than ever, it is necessary to clarify the French position” on prostitution, he said.

Sex workers’ groups have denounced the proposal as an attack on their rights and protested against the resolution near the National Assembly on Tuesday.

Several dozen prostitutes and supporters rallied carrying signs reading “Sex Work is Work” and “Prostitution — No Repression — No Punishment — Rights!”

Punishing clients will “deprive prostitutes of work that provides them with a living, give clients more power over them and push prostitutes to turn to intermediaries to be able to work,” said Sarah-Marie Maffesoli, a lawyer for sex workers’ group Strass.

In a letter to lawmakers, the group called for the resolution to be voted down, saying it threatens sex workers’ “health, security and livelihoods”.

An estimated 20,000 people work as prostitutes in France.

Prostitution has been thrown into the spotlight in France in recent weeks as media devoted widespread coverage to the case of eight leading members of Lille society charged with operating a ring that provided sex workers to clients including, allegedly, Strauss-Kahn.

The one-time top contender for the French presidency resigned as International Monetary Fund chief in May after he was accused of attempting to rape a New York hotel maid, though the charges against him were later dropped.

He denies any criminal wrongdoing.

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Nigerian sex traffickers jailed in France

A French court sentenced 24 members of a Lyon-based sex trafficking ring to prison terms of up to seven years for forcing Nigerian women into prostitution.

Nigerian sex traffickers jailed in France
Photos: AFP

Nearly all of the defendants were themselves Nigerian, in the latest case to highlight the growing use of African migrants in the European sex trade.

They include one of Europe's most wanted women, Jessica Edosomwan, accused of acting as a France-based “madam” to women recruited mainly in Nigeria's southern Edo State.

Edosomwan was tried in absentia.

Nigeria was the main country of origin for the tens of thousands of migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe by boat in 2016 and 2017.

Many were women and girls lured to Europe with false promises of jobs as hairdressers or seamstresses, only to find themselves selling sex to repay their smugglers.

Seventeen women filed complaints against the defendants but none of the victims attended the trial, with the exception of one former sex worker who found herself in the dock for luring another woman into the trade.

The accused had faced up to 10 years' imprisonment on charges including human trafficking, pimping, money laundering and helping people live illegally in France.

Prosecutors estimated that the victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to $166 000 a month for the syndicate by selling sex in vans parked by the side of the road for as little as 10 euros.

A French mechanic who looked after the vans was among the 24 defendants.

Last year, 15 members of a Paris-based, female-led pimping ring known as the “Authentic Sisters” – many themselves former trafficking victims – were jailed for up to 11 years for forcing girls into slavery in France.

Similar gangs have also been dismantled in Italy and Britain.

The UN estimates that 80 percent of young Nigerian women arriving in Italy – usually their first port of call in Europe – are already in the clutches of prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control.

Most of the women come from Nigeria's Benin City, a human trafficking hotbed.

Many told investigators they had taken part in “juju” or black magic rituals before leaving Nigeria, during which they had to promise to repay the money for their passage to Europe.