Vast Majority of Sex Workers in France Oppose Criminalisation of their Clients

Europe Regional Correspondent

As the French Senate prepared to debate a proposal to criminalise the clients of sex workers on Monday, March the 30th and Tuesday March the 31st, a university study showed that the vast majority of sex workers in France are opposed to the proposed new law.

According to the study of more than 500 men, women, and trans people, the majority of them migrants, working in the sex trades by the University of Aix-Marseille, 98 percent of sex workers are opposed to the criminalisation of their customers as they fear such a law would place them in danger. Several of the respondents said that even discussions of the proposal have had a negative effect on their lives, with a decrease in customers forcing them to take more risks.

Writing in Le Plus de L’Obs, French sex worker and activist, Thierry Schaffauser said:

“This should seem obvious, yet all sex workers who demonstrated or spoke against the criminalisation, were accused of representing only a privileged minority.

“The study shows, however, that this opposition is shared by all sex workers, regardless of nationality, type of sex work, and includes the those who have not decided to do this work, believing this would place them further danger.

“Now that this data is confirmed by a scientific study, it reminds those who argue for the criminalisation that they do not do it for us, but against us. They will have to justify the reasons that lead them to ignore the opinion of those most affected, and can no longer to be claim our self-appointed protectors. They will have to explain why they know better than us what is good for us.”

The study also study provides an estimate of the number of sex workers who have been trafficked in France.

According to the researcher Nick Mai, 7% of respondents (11% of migrant sex workers) are potential victims of trafficking.

“This figure,” writes Schaffauser, “is quite close to the estimates already known in the United Kingdom ( 7.8% ), Denmark ( 4% ), the Netherlands (8-10%) [ 1 ] and New Zealand ( 3.9% ).

“It is however far from the 90 percent asserted without proof for years by parliamentary socialists, the government and the militant prohibitionists .

“This raises a question: the people who have lied for years were ignorant on the subject or (they have lied) simply to better manipulate public opinion?

“In both cases, their credibility is seriously damaged. Not only do they have no legitimacy to speak on our behalf, but they distort our reality in the purpose of advancing a penalty that we do not want.

“This would not be so bad if the penalty had no disastrous consequences on our lives. Yet this is the case. Risks of isolation, increased exploitation, violence and stigma are reported in report after report.”

Hundreds of foreign sex workers, the majority of them undocumented Chinese immigrants, rallied against the proposal in Paris’ Place Pigalle on Saturday, the 28th of March.

Some of the Chinese sex workers, from the group Steel Roses, have signed a petition to urge the French government to cancel the motion.

A Chinese sex worker known as Ai Ying interviewed by Radio France International (RFI) said punishing clients will hurt their earnings and they will be exposed to greater dangers and problems. Ai Ying said the new law will not help them change their line of work, because they are not likely to get a job without a residency permit.

The New York Daily News has also reported that the proposal will include outlawing “looking like a prostitute,” of Chloe Navarro from STRASS said: "It is making criminals of women for how they dress, and victimising prostitutes for doing their job and aggravating their working conditions.”