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French MPs back plan to fine sex-workers' clients
French lawmakers approved a bill that will seec lients of prostitutes fined up to €1,500. Photo: Remi Gabalda/AFP

French MPs back plan to fine sex-workers' clients

AFP/The Local · 4 Dec 2013, 17:06

Published: 04 Dec 2013 17:06 GMT+01:00

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The government says the bill is aimed at preventing violence against women, but critics warn that it would force prostitutes further underground and put them in more danger.

The bill was passed, as expected, in France's lower house on Wednesday and is set to go before the Senate in early 2014, before it eventually comes into force.

The most controversial clause in the legislation, will see clients punished with a fine of €1,500 ($2,040) for a first offence and more than double that for repeat offenders. The clause has provoked fierce debate and saw rival protesters gather outside the National Assembly last Friday.

Sex workers' union Strass argue 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."

There are an estimated 20,000-plus sex workers in France, many of whom come from Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania; African nations like Nigeria and Cameroon, and China and South America.

According to the interior ministry, foreign prostitutes make up 80 to 90 percent of all sex workers in France.

A vast majority of these are victims of trafficking rings, and the bill takes inspiration from Sweden where a similar law punishing clients has reduced street prostitution by half over the past decade.

Hélène de Rugy, from Amicale du Nid, a group which has, since 1946, worked with women, men and transsexuals to give them support in leaving the life of sex work supports the bill.

"We work with 4,600 people every year, and every one of them despises prostitution, rather than choosing it freely, as some claim. They are either coerced into sex work by their pimp, or they’re so desperate financially that they feel they have no choice but to continue with it," she told The Local.

"The bill will give essential support to people who want to get out of prostitution, and help them reintegrate into society with jobs, and accommodation.

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

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