Parisian Sex Workers Mobilise Against Police Harassment in Belleville

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Europe Regional Correspondent
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Last week, in the Parisian neighbourhood of Belleville, 40 migrant Chinese sex workers participated in a rally organised by STRASS and Steel Roses denouncing the increase in police harassment.

The rally was preceded a few minutes earlier by a symbolic cleaning operation of the Boulevard de Belleville, which one of the activists explained was “to show that these women are not offenders. And that they care about, like other residents, the appearance of the neighbourhood where they live.”

Chinese sex workers, who largely arrive in the country on tourist visas, are increasingly visible in Belleville. The Lotus Bus, a project of Doctors Without Borders, which provides free health services to Chinese sex workers in Paris, estimates that around 300 Chinese people was in the area around the Belleville Metro, which has come under increased police surveillance.

"Since early May, the police are there every day. To control us and prevent us from working ", said Aying, president of Steel Roses. Tim Leicester, coordinator of the Lotus Bus, says that he has seen a 40 percent drop in the number of sex workers they see. "It does not mean they are not there. But simply that they have changed their behavior ... and have less access to care.”

On the first of July, STRASS published an open letter to prosecutor of the Republic in order to clarify the legal framework around the police harassment of the women in Belleville.

“The evidence collected in recent weeks by our organisations,” reads the letter, “reveal an intensification of police harassment of Chinese women in the public space of the Belleville district.

“Repeated checks, torn documents, photographs taken and barred access to the paths leading to their homes” are some of the instances of harrasment reported by the women due to their actual or perceived sex working status, the letter continues. “Moreover, these procedures have led to detentions that could cast doubt on their legality; and constitute additional pressure on these women regardless of their administrative status.”

At their website, STRASS is collecting testimonials from sex workers who have been harassed by the Parisian police. “I was walking, a policeman stopped me, asked for my papers and took my picture too quickly before I had time to react. Since then I do not go out to eat. I cannot work, I'm almost out of money " reads one.