A former prostitute began an 800 km (500-mile) march across France on Wednesday to demand that the French government make good on its promise to penalise clients.
Rosen Hicher, 57, an activist for the group Survivors of Prostitution, is protesting that a law to fine men who pay for sex up to €1,500 ($1,100) was shelved by a committee of the French senate in July.
Speaking at the time 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 had 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).
Intellectuals and celebrities had signed a "Manifesto of the 343 bastards" condemning the bill, and demanding the right to use prostitutes
But Hicher told AFP as she started her protest march in western France that "allowing clients the right to buy us allows pimps the right to sell us. If you outlaw the buying of people, there will be no more sale of people and no more victims".
She said she chose to start her march to the capital in the town of Saintes in Charente-Maritime because that was "the last place I sold my body. Paris was the first place I sold myself," she added.
She said she planned to end her protest at the gates of the senate, the French parliament's second house.