Sex Workers Protest France’s Proposal to Criminalise Clients

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Europe Regional Correspondent
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Sex workers have been assembling in several manifestations in Paris and across France to protest the proposed criminalisation of their clients.

Late last month, sex workers from eight different countries—including countries where clients are criminalised, such as Sweden, Norway and Northern Ireland—gathered in Paris’ Human Rights Square alongside NSWP member group STRASS and the migrant Chinese sex worker group, Steel Roses to commemorate International Sex Worker Day and the 40-year anniversary of the occupation of the Saint-Nizier church in Lyon, as well as to protest the proposed criminalisation bill, which will be discussed on the 12th of June in a second reading in the Assembly.

After 40 years of activism, the situation has not improved, STRASS’ Thierry Schaffauser told Libération. Punishing clients will exacerbate the situation, pushing sex workers into more precarious situations, he said. Pye Jakobsson told the press that in Sweden, where clients have been criminalised since 1999, sex workers are even more stigmatised.

Sex workers in France have been fighting attempts to criminalise their clients for years.  The issue was first discussed in the National Assembly in December 2011 when a non-binding resolution was adopted supporting the introduction of the ‘Swedish model.’  This was later followed by the introduction of a formal Bill by the ruling French Socialist Party.

The Bill proposed to introduce fines for anyone caught paying for or soliciting commercial sexual services and was passed by the Assembly in December 2013. The bill then went to the Senate but was first considered by a Committee, which removed the clause containing the provisions to criminalise clients in July 2014. However the proposal in now back on the table with a bill due to be discussed in the Assembly on the 12th of June.

In Paris, the Chinese sex workers are particularly vulnerable because they can not speak the language, are often undocumented and victims of police harassment, which prevents them from reporting if they are attacked by a client, said Ajing, President of Steel Roses.

The website RTL Info ran a story about Steel Roses, quoting Ajing, who said:

"We live like rats. Prostitution is legal in France, but we are discriminated against."

"As we are afraid of the police, if we are attacked by a customer, we do not dare to  complain," she said, adding that all had been victims of assault committed by customers who demand their money back or who refuse to pay and become violent. They also face hostility from the Chinese community, which "implies that we are dangerous elements, dirty … people insult us, spit on us,” said another sex worker, Ahua.

Due to police pressure, Ajing says, many of Steel Roses’ members are turning to the internet, via intermediaries, who charge a commission. They would like to see a repeal of the offence of soliciting, as will be proposed in a bill to be discussed on Friday at the Assembly, but they fear just as the criminalisation of clients. "If we have no more clients, we cannot eat," said Ahua.