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France: May make it illegal to pay for sex

Publish Date: 13 Apr 2011
By: Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

MPs have recommended criminalising clients of sex workers, saying 80% of prostitutes are victims of slavery and trafficking

France is to consider making it illegal to pay for sex, in a rethink of prostitution laws.

A cross-party commission of French MPs have recommended criminalising all clients of sex workers, meaning anyone who buys sex from any kind of prostitute would face prison and a fine.

If a law is introduced, France would join only a handful of European countries where clients of sex workers face prison. In 1999 Sweden became the first, followed by Norway and Iceland.

The Socialist Danielle Bousquet and Guy Geoffroy of Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP said clients must understand that any visit to a prostitute encouraged slavery and trafficking – which 80% of the estimated 20,000 sex-workers in France were victims of.

Roselyne Bachelot, the social affairs minister, favours criminalising clients. She told the commission inquiry: "There is no such thing as freely chosen and consenting prostitution. The sale of sexual acts means women's bodies are made available for men, independently of the wishes of those women."

Proposals for a law could be drawn up this month but it would not be debated in parliament before 2012.

In France prostitution is not illegal, but activities around it are. Brothels, once the subject of artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, were outlawed in 1946. Pimping is illegal, as is paying for sex from a minor. In 2003 a controversial law against soliciting was introduced by Sarkozy, then interior minister, making it illegal to stand in a public place known for prostitution dressed in revealing clothes. Sex-workers' groups in France have long campaigned for legal status and rights.

The French actor, Philippe Caubère, famous for playing Molière, is open about regularly paying sex-workers €200 for sex. He said the government was playing politics in the runup to next year's presidential election. "First it was immigrants, now it's prostitutes. This is plain populism and shows a disdain for individual liberties," he said. He told Le Parisien the government was not doing enough under existing laws to help exploited and trafficked women. "As for the other women, leave them alone. They take care of men who mostly live in sexual misery and terrible solitude. They are remarkable women."

Mouvement du Nid, a French group campaigning to end prostitution, published a study in 2004 which found 41% of male clients of sex workers said they were married and 57% were fathers.

The French justice minister, Michel Mercier, supports criminalising clients, but the interior minister, Claude Guéant, said it would be difficult to make buying sex a crime when prostitution itself was not illegal. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011