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France: French move to ban prostitution by punishing clients

Publish Date: 07 Dec 2011
Source: BBC News

Prostitutes wearing masks rallied outside the National Assembly. Photo / Reuters.

France's parliament has backed a proposal to fight prostitution by making payment for sex a crime punishable by fines and prison.

The National Assembly approved by a show of hands a cross-party, non-binding resolution which is due to be followed by a bill.

Six-month prison sentences and fines of 3,000 euros (£2,580; $4,000) are envisaged for clients of prostitutes.

Some campaigners reject the bill, advocating prostitutes' rights instead.

Around 20,000 people are believed to be working as prostitutes in France.

France has been committed to abolishing the practice in principle since 1960.

The resolution said the country should seek "a society without prostitution" and that sex work "should in no case be designated as a professional activity".

It urged abolition at a time when "prostitution seems to be becoming routine in Europe".

In 1999, the Swedish government brought in similar legislation to criminalise the buying of sex, while decriminalising its sale.

'Unacceptable for everyone'

Under existing French laws on prostitution, summed up by French Roman Catholic newspaper La Croix

  • France officially aspires to abolition but the act of prostitution itself is not a crime
  • Prostitution is only liable for prosecution when it troubles public order
  • A client faces prosecution only if the prostitute is under-age or "particularly vulnerable" because of illness etc
  • Pimping is punishable with a prison sentence of up to seven years, and there are some 1,000 convictions annually

Guy Geoffroy, an MP from the ruling UMP party who sits on the commission, said France's political parties had reached a consensus on the issue because it was a matter of "republican ethics".

Nine out of 10 prostitutes were victims of trafficking, he said.

"From now on prostitution is regarded from the point of view of violence against women and that has become unacceptable for everyone," Mr Geoffroy added.

Yves Charpenel, head of the Fondation Scelles group which fights human trafficking and also advocates criminalisation, said it was unclear whether the bill would eventually be adopted.

"There is no consensus yet on this subject," he said, according to AFP news agency.

"Will the deputies who vote for the abolitionist resolution then vote for its concrete application? More than ever, it is necessary to clarify the French position."


Another advocate of criminalisation, a French-led men's initiative known as ZeroMacho which was inspired by the historian and feminist Florence Montreynaud, has published a manifesto against prostitution, gathering some 200 signatures across EU states.

ZeroMacho member Jean-Sebastien Mallet told French women's website Terrafemina that it wanted to speak for "the vast majority of men - hitherto silent - who do not use prostitutes".

However, France's sex workers' trade union, Strass, called a rally outside parliament to oppose the proposed bill.

Several dozen prostitutes and supporters gathered under placards reading "Sex Work is Work" and "Prostitution - No Repression - No Punishment - Rights!"

Punishing clients would "deprive prostitutes of work that provides them with a living, give clients more power over them and push prostitutes to turn to intermediaries to be able to work", said Sarah-Marie Maffesoli, a lawyer for Strass.

In a letter to MPs, it and other groups accused politicians of treating prostitutes as "marginals whose voice does not deserve to be heard".

Strass draws a clear distinction between consensual prostitution and sexual trafficking.

A man at the demonstration who described himself as a "client of sex-workers" said he was "against enslavement".

"If I thought that the prostitutes I know were being enslaved, I would no longer be a client," he told Reuters news agency.

Copyright © 2011 BBC


Publish Date: 12 Dec 2011
Source: Nordic Prostitution Policy Reform
By: Emily St. Denny

French prostitution policy: France symbolically reaffirms its commitment to abolitionism

On December 6th 2011, French deputies unanimously[1] approved a non-binding motion reaffirming the country’s abolitionist position in matters of prostitution. The resolution had been put to the National Assembly in June by the members of the Parliamentary Information Commission on prostitution.[2] Indeed, this resolution is the first step in a plan to institute a policy of criminalization of the purchase of sexual services (CPSS) that had been called for by the Commission at the outcome of its review of possible policy options.

Having traveled abroad and visited countries with a variety of prostitution policy regimes, the Commission had concluded that the Swedish model was the most successful and appropriate one to emulate. The members of the Commission jointly tabled the motion that the National Assembly “reaffirm France’s abolitionist position, the object of which is, in time, a society without prostitution […and] consider that, in light of the constraint that is most often the cause of entry into prostitution, of the violence inherent to this activity […], that prostitution cannot, in any case, be deemed a professional activity”.[3]

The vote was largely symbolic: it serves to loudly and unequivocally restate the National Assembly’s commitment to the eradication of prostitution. The emblematic and foundational purpose of this vote and motion were made apparent by Guy Geoffroy, the Commission’s principal reporter, in an interview prior to the vote: “The resolution is the first step and we decided, symbolically, that as of the moment of the adoption of this resolution, adoption which is not in doubt, to deliver a legislative proposal this will pave the way to the responsibilization of the client, which will involve, if required, penalisation.”[4] In this way the non-binding motion does not introduce any changes to existing measures aimed at prostitution. Instead, it serves to lay the foundations for the impending legislative proposal to punish clients of prostitution.

At the outset of the vote, what is clear is that there is an overwhelming consensus among French political actors that abolitionism is the only legitimate and acceptable position for the country to take in the matter of prostitution. What is less clear, however, is whether or not the same consensus will apply to the vote for the legislative bill which would make clients liable to a six-month prison sentence and a €3000 fine. One important aspect that remains to be hammered out, at the demand of certain left-wing factions[5], is whether or not the proposed criminalization of clients would be implemented in conjunction with, or in the place of, current repressive anti-soliciting measures enshrined in Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2003 Domestic Security Bill. In effect, this symbolic vote has simply been the overture to what will undoubtedly be a less consensual and more heated debate over whether or not, and how, to penalise those who purchase sexual services.

How, then, does Sweden fit into all of this? The debate, both inside the National Assembly, and outside on the streets, where opponents of CPSS were protesting, the discussion was peppered with references to “la Suède” and the “modèle Suédois”. Throughout this episode, proponents of the bill have made references to Sweden and its pioneering policy as a basis for galvanizing support with recurrent allusions to the official rates of success set out in Anna Skarhed’s 2010 official evaluation of the Swedish sex purchase ban report: a 50% decrease of street prostitution. Critics, such as sociologist and sex workers rights activist Françoise Gil, have also made frequent references to the Swedish ban, highlighting what they consider to be the negative side effects of the ban: increased isolation, violence and invisibility.[6]

Nevertheless, despite the relative omnipresence of the Swedish model, the latest episode of French prostitution policy remains an exercise in national distinction. What stands out from the numerous declarations of support presented by the leaders of the different political groups during the vote are the expressions of national and republican pride at France’s perceived shift from passive follower to potential national trendsetter in this policy matter. Overall, this debate has been animated by a common sentiment but risks yet being undermined by conflicting views over the continued form of French prostitution policy. Whilst the political position of France regarding prostitution has been reiterated and clarified, whether or not the current abolitionist project will be successfully used as a platform to criminalize clients remains to be seen.

[1] The vote was undertaken as a symbolic gesture where all the leaders of the different political groups, which house the different political parties, spoke for the deputies they represent. All leaders of the groups expressed the support of their deputies.

[2] Proposition de Résolution réaffirmant la position abolitionniste de la France en matière de prostitution 9 June 2011 presented by Danielle Bousquet, Guy Geoffroy, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Christian Jacob, François Sauvadet, Yves Cochet and marie-Jo Zimmermann. Available at: [accessed 07/12/11].  See also: France’s newest import? Parliamentary Commission calls for “Swedish model” client criminalization

[3] Ibid. “Compte tenu de la contrainte qui est le plus souvent à l’origine de l’entrée dans la prostitution, de la violence inhérente à cette activité […], le prostitution ne saurait en aucun cas être assimilée à une activité professionelle”

[4] Guy Geoffroy (06/12/11) in  an interview with TF1 available at: [accessed 06/12/2011]

[5] Jean-Paul Lecoq, communist deputy, speaking for the Gauche démocrate et républicaine (republican and democrat left) states that: “[…] we believe that the repressive measures put in place by Nicolas Sarkozy against the victims of prostitution should be removed.” In National Assembly Ordinary Session of December 6th 2011 available at: [accessed 07/12/11]

[6] RFI (06/12/11) “Vers l’abolition de la prostitution en France?” [accessed 07/12/11]; 20Minutes (06/12/11) “Prostitution: “En Suède, ce système de pénalisation du client est inutile, inefficace et dangereux” [accessed 07/12/11]. See also: Evaluating the Swedish Ban on the Purchase of Sexual Services: The Anna Skarhed Report

Copyright © 2011 Nordic Prostitution Policy Reform