Hundreds of French sex workers took to the streets of Paris last week to protest against their government’s proposed set of anti-prostitution laws.
The bill itself has gone through a dizzying array of amendments since it was first proposed by the government of President Francois Hollande in 2013.
The original proposal wanted to make solicitation for sex from a potential client illegal; a position many opponents of the legislation claimed would make conditions for sex workers and their clients unmanageable. Paying for sex in France is technically legal, but the new laws would create a bizarre paradox wherein clients cannot actively or passively solicit, but can still exchange money for goods and services.
The intervening period has seen the bill morph into a more sinister and discriminatory act that removes the burden of responsibility (like there should be one anyway) from the client and pushes it all onto the sex worker. As a result, and if the law passes this week, French sex workers will be the ones liable for large fines and jail time if they are caught selling sex and other services by the authorities. The maximum penalty currently on the table is a fine of €3,750 and two months in prison.
Seemingly oblivious to the notion of history, socio-economics and just about anything else in the spectrum of Common Sense, French lawmakers are unable to see what is directly in front of them: outlawing sex work will drive the industry further underground, potentially increase human trafficking and allow the weak and vulnerable to be preyed on mercilessly.
The Parisian protest was organized by French sex worker’s union STRASS. Speaking with French English language news outlet The Local, STRASS spokesperson Morgane Merteuil said: “They have no intention of improving the working conditions of prostitutes, they just want a law so that they don’t see prostitutes on the streets.
“But they don’t realise that if you don’t see the sex-workers on the street it’s not a sign that there are less of them or that their conditions are better.
“On the contrary it’s just a sign that they are out of sight and probably working alone in more isolated areas which is much more dangerous for them.”
Some reports noted that a sizeable number of France’s sex workers are made up of foreign nationals, primarily from South America and China. The Want China Times noted that up to 240 Chinese sex workers, united under the banner of ‘The Iron Roses’, fought for their rights in their adoptive nation.
A decision on the bill will be passed this week.