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France: ICRSE condemns the vote on penalisation of clients in France

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) strongly condemns the vote by French National Assembly “against the prostitutional system” which main aim is to penalise clients of sex workers.

After years of debates, auditions, protests, the penalisation of clients has finally been voted in France on Wednesday, 6th of April 2015.

This law was denounced by 100s of organisations in France including sex worker-led trade unions and associations such as STRASS, health organisations such as Médecins du Monde, ACT-UP or Grisélidis and human rights organisations such as the League of Human Rights. At the international level, the criminalisation of clients has also been opposed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women and many UN bodies such as the World Health Organisation or United Nations Joint programme on HIV and Aids.

The penalisation of clients was also rejected three times by the Senate which had considered the evidence and listened to sex workers and health professionals themselves.

ICRSE condemns the ideological bias of the abolitionist movement, Members of Parliament and organisations who have been unable and unwilling to listen to sex workers themselves and consider the growing evidence that criminalisation of sex work only endangers sex workers and increase their precariousness and vulnerability to violence, stigma and HIV/STI

What does the law say:

Penalisation of clients:

“Purchase of a sexual act” carries a fine of 1,500 euros and 3,750 euros in case of recidivism. Clients will also have to attend an “awareness raising training on the harms of prostitution.”

This will in effect force sex workers to work more underground, rely more on third-parties to access clients and increase their precariousness and vulnerability.

Repeal of passive soliciting law:

Introduce in 2003, this law directly targeted street-based sex workers. All organisations agree on the harmful effects of this law and agree on the repeal. However, the debate on prostitution in France has brought the issue of sex work in the media and to the population attention and many cities have now passed municipal by-laws criminalising street-based sex workers by making it illegal to sell sex in certain areas. Whilst STRASS and sex workers’ rights activists denounced these by-laws which simply replace soliciting offences and fought to have them cancelled, most abolitionist organisations have remained silent about them.

6-month residence cards for migrant sex workers.

A residence card of 6 months will be made available to migrant sex workers at the condition that they quit sex work and re-insert professionally and socially. This will also be conditioned to prefectures’ authorisations.

A fund for “exiting”

Finally, the law includes a budget of 4.8 millions and a series of social measures to support sex workers wanting to stop their activity. These funds will be made available to a selected numbers of organisations and again, only those who have stopped sex work will be eligible to receive any support. In other words, although prostitution is seen as a form of violence against women, only repenting victims deserve support. If official French estimations on the number of sex workers (30 000) are taken for granted, this “exiting fund” means 160 Euros a year by sex worker: an ineffective ‘smoke-screen” to hide the punitive objective of this law.

ICRSE condemns the ideological view that prostitution is a form of violence and demands rights for all sex workers, not depending on “exiting prostitution”. We also condemn the refusal to consider the lack of evidence behind the Swedish Model which after 15 years of implementation has not led to a decrease in sex work or trafficking but a greater vulnerability of sex workers both in Sweden and Norway.

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