EUROPE French Senators Vote to Screw Over Prostitutes — But Not Their Johns By Matthieu Jublin

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Apr 2 15 4:02 PM

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French Senators Vote to Screw Over Prostitutes — But Not Their Johns

By Matthieu Jublin


Protesters hold a banner reading 'Steel roses' as they take part in a demonstration of sex workers and activists from STRASS (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel, a union for sex workers) in Paris on December 17, 2014, to mark the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

March 31, 2015 | 4:05 pm

French lawmakers rejected a proposed law Tuesday that would have fined people caught paying for sex, voting instead to crack down on the country's prostitutes.

The French Senate, which currently holds a conservative majority, voted 165 to 44 in favor of regulating the world's oldest profession by fining prostitutes caught soliciting customers up to 3,750 euros ($4,050), and sentencing them to a maximum of two months in jail.

A previous version of the legislation that was introduced in 2013 and approved by the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, sought to punish johns instead of prostitutes by imposing a 1,500 euro ($1,630) fine on anybody caught paying for sex. The senators, however, decided to go after sex workers instead and let their clients off the hook completely.

Related: Looking for a prostitute? Germany has an app for that

Sex worker advocacy groups fear the senate's move will further stigmatize prostitutes and make them vulnerable to abuse. STRASS, a trade union for sex workers, had previously called on the government to decriminalize all aspects of prostitution.

"Prostitutes will be forced to hide and work in conditions that are increasingly precarious," STRASS spokeswoman Morgan Merteuil told VICE News. "Punishing clients does not work in favor of prostitutes. These laws all have the same purpose, which is to rid the streets of whores."

Even anti-prostitution groups are criticizing the new legislation.

"The client and the pimp should bear the brunt of the law, so that prostitutes can report abuses to the authorities without being afraid," Grégoire Théry, a spokesman for Mouvement du Nid, an organization that supports social services for sex workers while seeking to abolish prostitution, told VICE News.

The purpose the National Assembly's failed 2013 proposal was to revoke previous legislation introduced in 2003 by Nicholas Sarkozy, then the interior minister. The so-called "Sarkozy Law" made soliciting in public illegal and controversially introduced "dress and attitude" as grounds for the arrest of prostitutes. Prostitution is still technically legal in France, but the act of soliciting sex in public is considered a crime.

Roughly 90 percent of France's estimated 30,000 sex workers are women. According to the French interior ministry, 80 percent of the prostitutes working in France come from abroad, mostly from Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, China, and Brazil.

Related: 'I am not like before': Sex workers in Bangladesh's mega-brothel are stuck in a life of drugs and slavery

Other European countries have had success with progressive approaches to the sex trade. In 1999, Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services but not to sell them, and statistics show that the law has cut street prostitution in the country by half.

"In countries where clients are punished, police monitoring shows that pimping networks are starting to fold," Théry said. "They say the market is dead."

Dr. Axel Kahn, the co-author of a recent article on human trafficking in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche and a member of the French National Consultative Ethics Committee, told VICE News the senate's proposed law is "chauvinist and reactionary."

Kahn said punishing clients has long-term "educational" benefits, and that paying for sex "should not be as easy as paying for a baguette."

According to Merteuil, the crackdown on prostitutes hides a different political agenda. "This hunting down of prostitutes is in fact [the government] hunting down undocumented workers," she said. "The UMP [conservative party], like the PS [socialist party], are enforcing a repressive policy toward undocumented [migrants]."

Despite the divisions over who should bear the brunt of the law, French lawmakers are overwhelmingly in agreement over the need to offer social services to sex workers. French lawmakers have considered several measures that would provide support for prostitutes who seek to find a new line of work, including a 20 million euro government fund dedicated to social programs and assistance. Another provision would integrate prostitution prevention into the sex education curriculum in public schools.

The senate's bill will now be submitted to the National Assembly for a second reading. If the two houses of parliament can't agree on the bill, the National Assembly will get final say, potentially shifting the penalties once more from the sex workers and back onto their clients.

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Apr 2 15 4:10 PM

Hundreds of French Sex Workers March in Paris Against Laws Making Buying, Selling, and Looking Like You Might Sell Sex a Crime – free minds & free markets

Hundreds of French Sex Workers March in Paris Against Laws Making Buying, Selling, and Looking Like You Might Sell Sex a Crime

In France, looking a little too slutty to a police officer is punishable by six months in prison and a fine of €3,750.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown|

An anti-prostitution proposal being debated in France could criminalize "johns" for the first time,
à la Sweden and Canada. Over the weekend, hundreds of French sex workers took to the streets of Paris in protest. 

The march was organized by the French Union of Sex Workers, STRASS, in coordination with other groups. STRASS' position is that criminalization of customers will not "end demand" for prostitution but rather force sex workers further underground, driving them away from community support associations and health care facilities.

Prostitution is technically legal in France, but brothels and "active solicitation" (racolage) have long been banned. And in 2003, then-interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy ushered in a ban on racolage passif, or "passive solicitation," defined as being present in revealing clothes in an area known for prostitution. Now looking a little too slutty to a police officer is punishable by six months in prison and a fine of €3,750. 

Le Chat qui Fouine/TwitterLe Chat qui Fouine/Twitter

The proposal being debated in the French Senate this Monday and Tuesday has changed quite a bit since it first passed the country's National Assembly in late 2013. Originally, lawmakers wanted to decriminalize solicitation but assess a penalty of €1,500 on prostitution clients. The Senate's revamped measure would keep paying for sex legal and keep soliciting illegal (basically, it would uphold the status quo), though many politicians advocate adding back in the client-criminalization clause. 

"What we are really afraid of is that France ends up with both clients and prostitutes being penalized which would be total prohibition," a spokeswoman from STRASS told The Local.

A large number of South American- and Asian-immigrant sex workers came out for this weekend's protest, complaining that laws against "passive prostitution" are used unevenly against immigrant women due to police stereotyping. There's a huge disparity between lawmakers' desired objective of fighting sex-trafficking networks and the reality of how criminalizing solicitation is applied in the field by police, the president of a French association of Chinese sex workers said. Transgender sex workers said they will be similarly singled out for harassment and arrest by police. 

STRASS and other pro-sex work feminist groups allege that France's anti-solicitation policies are aimed more at driving out immigrants than protecting the sexually exploited. "We know criminalisation is for police to specifically arrest migrant sex workers," said STRASS secretary Morgane Merteuil. "Illegal migrants can be deported if arrested for sex work, so some legal migrants could also be arrested, and if they cannot prove that they’re there legally this can be problem." 

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.

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