“The question is not whether we want to abolish prostitution, the answer is yes. The real question is how we are going to do it,” Minister for Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told French weekly Le JDD on Sunday.
In France, prostitution is legal but street walking is an offence. Prostitutes who are caught looking clients on the street risk two months in prison and a fine of €3,750.
The Socialist Party has criticised the criminalisation of street walking, saying it forced sex workers to hide and denied them access to health services.
In 2012, there were at least 18,000 to 20,000 prostitutes on the streets of French towns, according to an anti-prostitution association the Scelles Foundation. But the figures do not take into account the booming sex industry on the Internet.
“I’m not naive; I know it’s a long-term mission,” says 34-year-old Vallaud-Belkacem. She says the government is planning to organise an conference on the best way to tackle prostitution.
According to a 2011 parliamentary report, 80 percent of prostitutes in France are foreigners who are the victims of trafficking networks – some are forced to have sex 15 to 20 times per day. The report warned that France has fewer independent sex workers today than in previous years.
Last year, the French National Assembly voted for a resolution to criminalise clients, a move that shifts the blame away from prostitutes.
In 1999, Sweden introduced legislation criminalising the buying of sex, not its selling. The idea behind the legislation is that prostitution is a form of abuse against female or male sex workers.