France Passes Law that Criminalises Clients

European Regional Correspondent

The French Parliament passed a bill on the 6th of April, 2016 which makes it illegal to pay for sex in France. Selling sex remains legal. The bill passed 64 to 12 in the National Assembly, France’s lower house, with 501 deputies abstaining from the vote.

Under the new law those who pay for sex will face fines of up to 1,500 Euros for the first offence, and up to 3,750 Euros for subsequent offences. They may also be required to attend a stigmatising course to raise awareness of the harms of ‘prostitution’. The law on “public solicitation” has been abolished.

The legislation set aside more than $5 million dollas (USD) to offer ‘help’ for those who want to leave sex work. Foreign sex workers will be granted a temporary 6 month residence permit if they exit sex work and find another job. Sex workers claim those measures are not aimed to help them: “although prostitution is seen as a form of violence against women, only repenting victims deserve support. If official French estimations on the number of sex workers (30,000) are taken for granted, this ‘exiting fund’ means 160 Euros a year per sex worker: an ineffective ‘smoke-screen’ to hide the punitive objective of this law” stated The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE).  

France follows Northern Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Iceland in introducing laws designed to criminalise clients. In many of these countries, sex workers are still criminalised under a variety of different laws.

Members of the STRASS, a sex worker-led organisation in France, say the law will affect the livelihood of all sex workers in France, estimated to number between 30,000 and 40,000.

As International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe stated, “ICRSE condemns the ideological view that prostitution is a form of violence and demands rights for all sex workers, not depending on “exiting prostitution”. We also condemn the refusal to consider the lack of evidence behind the Swedish Model which after 15 years of implementation has not led to a decrease in sex work or trafficking but a greater vulnerability of sex workers both in Sweden and Norway.”

When the law proposal on criminalising clients was voted in France in 2013, NSWP issued a statement criticising this bill: “The Swedish model has significantly reduced the safety and well-being of sex workers in Sweden by pushing sex work further underground in order to avoid detection by law enforcement and distances sex workers from support networks.”

Since its introduction in 1999, the Swedish model has not reduced the number of sex workers and has not reduced trafficking. In fact, the Swedish government has found that since the law was introduced, stigma against sex workers has increased.

“It has never been safe to work in France. Many times we are robbed, assaulted, raped and evicted. We never trusted the French police, and now we have even less reason to trust them. We will have to hide more, which will put our lives and health in greater danger,” adds a sex worker and activist interviewed by NSWP’s Regional Correspondent in Europe.

For more information on the harms of the Swedish Model, read NSWP’s Swedish Model Advocacy Toolkit.