The plan to target clients of sex workers was the flagship proposal of a bill aimed at battling prostitution that was given the green light by National Assembly in December last year.
But this week a senate committee threw a spanner in the works of the government’s controversial bill by removing the key clause about hitting clients with €1,500 fines if they are caught.
Senator Esther Benbassa cited the bad example, she claimed had been, set in Sweden where clients have been targeted since 1999. Many argue it has failed to reduce prostitution and simply made life more dangerous for sex workers.
“We have highlighted the danger for prostitutes that penalisation would force prostitutes into hiding and see the more stranger clients imposing their desires,” Benbassa said.
“The example set in Sweden shows this does not work,” she added. Benbassa’s argument was the same one put forward for sex worker groups last year, who argued their lives would become more dangerous if police began fining their clients as they would be forced to work in more remote areas.
However feminist groups reacted to the news with dismay
"By scrapping the criminalization of the client, the Senate committee states that the purchase of a sexual act, from a body for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and therefore rape, is not repressible. It endorses the view that clients are not responsible for violence against prostitutes," said a statement from the organisation Osez le Féminisme (Feminism to Dare).
The committee’s vote to pull the clause will also not go down well with France’s Minister for Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkcam, who spearheaded the bill.
After the senators move, a furious Socialist Party MP Maud Olivier, who drew up the bill released a statement saying “if the law does not take into account the need to reduce demand… then it will not be effective”.
The battle is not over yet however as the clause could still be reinserted when the bill goes to the full Senate.
But with opinions on the proposal so divided, even among MPs in the government, senators may have dealt a fatal blow to what would be a radical change of law around prostitution in France.