Although prostitution and solicitation of prostitutes are both legal in France, lawmakers are considering new legislation which would make solicitation for prostitution illegal. This would mean that prostitutes’ clients, if caught, could face jail time, but that prostitutes themselves wouldn’t be penalized. The politicians who back the ban claim that most, if not all, prostitution supports sex trafficking.
“There is no such thing as freely chosen and consenting prostitution,” Roselyne Bachelot, the social affairs minister said. “The sale of sexual acts means women’s bodies are made available for men, independently of the wishes of those women.” Other legislators claimed that 80% of the estimated 20,000 prostitutes in France were victims of trafficking or slavery. The Guardian doesn’t back up this statistic, but presumably it’s being cited by French politicians.
Proposals for the law wouldn’t be debated until next year, but if it passed, France would join a small number of European countries, including Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, where solicitation of prostitution is illegal.
A French actor who has been open about his own tendency to pay prostitutes for sex said that it was a political move in the run-up to the election. “First it was immigrants, now it’s prostitutes. This is plain populism and shows a disdain for individual liberties,” he said. “As for the other women, leave them alone. They take care of men who mostly live in sexual misery and terrible solitude. They are remarkable women.”
Some sex workers would certainly object to the notion that their occupation is not freely chosen, and although they wouldn’t be directly impacted, the sex work industry would certainly change if solicitation were criminalized. There was heated debate before the Norwegian law was passed, with sex workers pointing out that even if they don’t personally face punishment, laws like this still make the police seem hostile.
Interestingly, a Dutch advocate for prostitutes said in a 2009 article for the BBC that although trafficking is common, coercion isn’t always involved. “Lots of trafficked women knew they were going to work as sex workers,” she explained.
Either way, the passage of this law is a long way off, and if it progresses, it’s sure to be the subject of heavy debate. We’ll keep you posted as it unfolds.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.