French prostitutes launch court bid to fight law barring their clients from buying sex after claiming the 2016 ban ‘infringes on their right to free enterprise’
- Legislation introduced in France in 2016 makes it a crime to pay for sex
- But a sex workers’ union is among groups launching court bid to fight law
- Group says legislation infringes ‘the right to personal autonomy and sexual freedom, the right to privacy… and the freedom of enterprise’
Prostitutes in France have launched a court bid to fight a law banning their clients from buying sex.
Legislation introduced in France in 2016 makes it a crime to pay for sex but not to sell it with clients facing fines of up to around £1,300 for a first offence.
But a number of groups, including the sex workers’ union, Strass, has called for France’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, to strike out the regulations.
Prostitutes in France have launched a court bid to fight a law banning their clients from paying for sex (file picture)
According to the Times, they argue that current laws infringe on their right to free enterprise.
There are also claims from the group, as well as the charity Médecins du Monde that prostitutes have been placed at increasing risk of assault with clients choosing hidden locations to avoid being caught by police.
Strass says the legislation is unconstitutional and infringes ‘the right to personal autonomy and sexual freedom, the right to privacy… and the freedom of enterprise’.
A spokesman told the Times: ‘Clients think they can negotiate the tariffs and the practices, which means we take more and more risks with unprotected sex and we have to accept things that we didn’t do before.’
The 2016 measures did away with a 2003 law that banned passive soliciting by sex workers on the street and thus put the legal onus on prostitutes.
Instead, it aimed to focus the punishment on the client, introducing a 1,500-euro fine that would rise to 3,750 euros for a sex buyer’s second offence.
The convicted client is obliged to attend classes highlighting the dangers associated with prostitution. The measure was also aimed at making it easier for foreign prostitutes – many currently illegally in France – to acquire a temporary residence permit if they enter a process to get out of the sex industry.
Supporters of the bill argued that it will help fight trafficking networks.
‘The most important aspect of this law is to accompany prostitutes, give them identity papers because we know that 85 percent of prostitutes here are victims of trafficking,’ Maud Olivier, a lawmaker with the governing Socialists and a sponsor of the legislation, told The Associated Press at the time the law was passed.
Olivier said that many of the sex workers who arrive in France have their passports confiscated by pimps.
‘We will provide them with documents on the condition they commit to leave prostitution behind,’ she added.
But opponents raised fears that cracking down will push prostitutes to hide, leaving them even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients.
France’s parliament started debating the bill in 2013, but the final vote was delayed due to sharp divisions between the lower parliamentary chamber and the Senate.
Written by a group of lawmakers from both right and left and backed by the Socialist government, the legislation was inspired by Sweden, which passed a similar measure in 1999. Norway and Iceland also followed the Swedish model.
Other countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where brothels are legal, are interested in the French experience.