New Law In France Bans Paying For Sex While Not Criminalizing Prostitutes

In a rather confusing move, France has passed a new law that makes paying for sex illegal, while it is still legal for sex workers to sell their bodies.

This radical step comes in a country where brothels were once legal, and while it is still legal to offer your body for sale – meaning prostitutes cannot be prosecuted and are safe from the law – people who buy sex can be hit with a fine. The new law was approved in the French parliament at its fourth reading, reportedly after a three-year battle with the upper house, or Sénat.

Now that the law is in place, anyone who is proved to have been paying for sex will face a €1,500 ($1,707) fine, increased to €3,750 ($4,267) should they get caught out a second time.

According to Newsweek, while sex workers were out in the streets near the French parliament in Paris protesting the new law, prostitutes are divided over the new legislation. Many welcome the fact that their clients, not themselves, will be treated as criminals. In fact, France will be the fourth country in Europe after Iceland, Norway, and Sweden to make the client pay for the crime.

Other sex workers, however, complained they will be forced to work in even more secrecy and will likely lose their more “respectable” and non-violent clients.

Morgane Merteuil, spokeswoman for Strass, one of several French sex-workers’ unions, said, “We will simply face more poverty, more violence, and more stigmatization.”

However, there is a good side to the new law, in that prostitutes will be given financial support should they wish to create a new life for themselves outside of prostitution. It also makes it possible for foreign prostitutes to stay in France legally, as long as they abandon sex work. Reportedly, of the estimated 40,000 sex workers in France, eight out of ten hail from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

As reported by The Local, ironically a law that was passed back in 2003, which criminalized “passive” street prostitution, with sex workers wearing provocative clothing, was repealed, which means the approximately 40,000 sex workers in France can offer their services openly on the streets or internet. However, it will now be illegal to approach these sex workers, and getting caught paying for sex will lead to a hefty fine.

The new move is also the latest in several attempts to regulate prostitution in France, since licensed brothels were abolished back in 1946. Previous laws in France on sex workers made it illegal to run a brothel, solicit in public, or be a pimp, but it was not illegal to sell your body for sex, or for clients to buy sex.

According to Socialist deputy Maude Olivier, who first proposed the law back in 2013, the fact that those caught paying for sex will be penalized would “reduce demand,” thereby allowing sex workers to be considered as “victims and not offenders”.

According to the French health minister, Marisol Touraine, the law would “force men to think about what they do and the way they behave.”

Police unions are not happy with the new law and have campaigned against it, saying it will be difficult for them to enforce, as financial transactions between the sex workers and their clients would be difficult to prove.

According to police, clients who fear punishment or publicity will simply force prostitution further underground into more dangerous situations, making any action against international prostitution networks, reportedly a €2bn ($2.3bn) a year industry, even harder.

However, those in the police who are for the law against paying for sex say it will make it easier to target sex trafficking networks in France, saying 85 percent of French sex workers are victims of trafficking.

[Photo via AP Photo/Christophe Ena]