On April 6, 2016, the French National Assembly recognized prostitution as a form of violence against women, voting to criminalize the purchase of sex in France. Under the new law, prostituted people will be decriminalized and men who are caught buying sex will be subject to fines.
In a press release, Ressources Prostitution points out that adopting this law ensures France is in compliance with international and national human rights commitments, including the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) and France’s national rape law, which defines rape as “any act of penetration imposed on someone by violence, surprise, threat, or coercion.”
With today’s 64 to 12 vote, French parliamentarians recognize that buying sexual access to another person’s body is inherently an act of coercion and recognizes that prostitution harms women and society as a whole.
Not only did the French Assembly acknowledge the way in which prostitution undermines the social, emotional, and physical well-being of women, as well as our fundamental human rights, but they recognized the extreme levels of violence women are subjected to in the industry. Socialist MP Maud Olivier, who authored the bill, states on her website, “Prostitution is violence in itself,” adding, “This poorly-understood violence is the only one that is still not recognized as such by law.”
“The goal is to diminish [prostitution], protect those prostitutes who want to quit, and change mentalities,” Olivier told Le Monde on Tuesday.
The Nordic model is the most progressive and considered model — one that understands the complexities of the industry and not only the reasons why women and girls enter into the sex trade, but how difficult it can be for them to leave. Unlike alternative approaches which either fully decriminalize every aspect of the sex industry, leaving everyone to their own devices, or that criminalize the prostituted, leaving victimized women and girls with criminal records that further prevent them from moving forward with their lives, away from exploitative men, the Nordic model takes a multifaceted approach.
In an effort to “shift the balance of power,” the second measure in the bill repeals the law that made passive soliciting illegal. This will serve to reinforce the notion that prostituted women and girls are victims, not criminals and allows them to act as witnesses in related crimes without fear of being charged with an offense.
The bill promises that close to five million Euros per year will go into prevention as well as exiting and support services. Under the plan, johns will allowed a grace period after a first offence, but then will be fined between $1,500-$3,750(EUR) if they are caught buying sex again. But beyond fines and funding, the bill aims to change the discourse surrounding the sex trade, educating the public and law enforcement alike about the way in which the system of prostitution operates on a foundation of inequality, targeting the most vulnerable and propping up a mentality that puts male desires above women’s human rights, well-being, and dignity.
As we’ve seen in countries that have opted to legalize prostitution (Germany, for example), trafficking increases in order to meet demand — a clear reminder that there are not (and there will never be) enough women who are willing to enter the sex trade “voluntarily” in order to placate male demand. Under the bill, trafficked women from outside France will be offered six month residency permits in order to make use of the exiting program.
This modern approach, quickly being adopted around the world (most-recently in Canada and Northern Ireland), demonstrates a steadfast commitment to working towards an equitable society that recognizes women as full, valued members of society.
Congratulations to and solidarity with our French sisters who fought so long and hard to ensure this step towards gender equality was taken in France.