French Human Rights Commission Rejects the Criminalisation of Clients

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The French Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l'Homme(CNCDH) released its opinion on the proposals for amending the country’s sex work laws on Monday 28th May 2014.  The CNCDH includes representatives from many of the country’s major human rights NGOs including Inter-LGBT, Amnesty International and the Human Rights League.  The national sex workers union, STRASS (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel), along with other organisations working in the field of sex worker rights and HIV prevention have welcomed the position taken by the Commission.  The organisations are particularly supportive of the Commission’s comments on the laws against passive soliciting, which are currently in place in France, and the proposal to introduce laws criminalising the clients of sex workers.

France introduced a ‘passive soliciting’ law in 2003, which made it illegal simply to ‘look like a sex worker’ in locations known for prostitution.  The CNCDH was firm in its criticism of the passive solicitation laws.  It argued that the law has had a detrimental effect on the health of sex workers and their working conditions.  Forcing sex workers to effectively become ‘invisible’ to avoid arrest and prosecution has increased their isolation and left them more vulnerable to violence.  STRASS continues to fight against the passive solicitation laws and demands that it be repealed immediately. 

The CNCDH is also critical of the proposals to introduce laws criminalising the clients of sex workers.  The CNCDH argues that criminalising clients will force sex workers to work from more remote areas, their ability to negotiate with clients will be reduced and given the potential reduction in client numbers their ability to refuse clients may also be compromised. The CNCDH also points out that criminalising clients will make it more difficult for health and social support organisations to offer services to sex workers given the move to more isolated working spaces. All of these factors, according to the CNCDH, will have a serous impact on the health and rights of sex workers and make them more vulnerable to violence.

The proposed law amending France’s prostitution laws (to repeal passive solicitation and introduce the criminalisation of clients) passed its reading in the National Assmebly in December 2013 and is currently in the Senate where it has not yet been debated or voted on.  The CNCDH points out that there is nothing in the proposed Bill, which is designed to improve or further the rights of sex workers in France.  The Commission is critical of this failure and notes that France should not delay further in supporting sex workers and ensuring they have effective access to rights. 

The Commission is also careful to distinguish between sex work and trafficking in human beings, which are often conflated in French policy and discourse.  The CNCDH argues that any discussion or policy on human trafficking must be extended to all forms of economic exploitation and that preventing trafficking should not be used simply as a cover for criminalising sex work.

The Commission’s report (in French) is available here and the statement in support from STRASS and other organisations (in French) is here.