Last week, according to the BBC, the French National Assembly passed resolution no.3522 to make paying for sex a crime. What implication does this have for France’s 20,000 sex workers, and is this a move that will protect or punish them?
The Figaro reminds us that the French government has taken a pro-abolition stance against prostitution since 1960. The article quotes the resolution as stating: “[the principles of abolitionism] have to be proclaimed loud and clear at a time when prostitution is commonplace in Europe.” ([les principes]doivent être proclamés haut et fort à une époque où la prostitution semble se banaliser en Europe)
For some anti-prostitution campaigners in France this is the good news they have been waiting for. La Fondation Scelles has campaigned for years for the abolition of prostitution in France because they “believe prostitution is a breach of human rights of equality, of dignity and a source of social and personal violence.” (estime que la prostitution est une atteinte aux Droits humains d’égalité, de dignité et une source de violences sociales et personnelles) For La Fondation Scelles this resolution confirms the government’s commitment to an abolitionist stance. Furthermore, they see this resolution as a protection of human rights and a move that will protect sex workers by punishing their clients.
The French Sex Worker’s Union (STRASS), however, sees it as a step in the wrong direction. The Union believes the resolution will push prostitution underground and create an invisible problem: “What this shows it that the parliamentarians have no concern for the fate of poor whores, but to make prostitution invisible and to satisfy the demands of local residents.” (Cela montre que le souci des parlementaires n’est pas le pauvre sort des putes, mais bien de rendre le travail sexuel invisible et de satisfaire les demandes des riverains.)
The proposal will see clients being punished through fines and prison sentences, but SRASS does highlight that the welfare of the worker is not leading this resolution. There is a risk of punishing sex workers and forcing them into even more vulnerable positions to find work without really addressing the issues surrounding why people prostitute themselves. Legislation that is made without the consultation of key groups, such as STRASS, is likely to misunderstand how to help sex workers in France.
For more information see the BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16047284 , the Fondation Scelles website (French): http://fondationscelles.org/ and the STRASS website (French): http://site.strass-syndicat.org/