France adopts the Nordic model

France flag

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.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Tangelo

    Excellent news. Thank you to all the women and women’s groups who advocated for the Nordic model to be adopted in France.

  • Kendall Turtle

    It makes me happy to see that people (even men) are starting to recognize the injustices done to women.

  • will

    HOPE!!!! So good to hear this news!!!

  • Mellie

    Good news!! The Nordic model is spreading. I didn’t expect it to pass as I don’t know if France has a strong radical feminist movement.

    • batonus

      it does, recently there has been a push over by queer/pro prostitution movements but the traditional feminism in France is way closer to the RF point of view than in Englan or US.

      • lagattamontral

        Yes, that is true, though it is not exactly the same.

  • Rae Story

    “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 the exiting program.”
    This is such a good point. I remember hearing Swedish feminist Kajsa Ekis Ekman also making the point that trafficking is endemic to prostitution because there is a huge possibility for demand, but the ‘supply’ is thwarted when women have access to good jobs, welfare & social support and so forth, and so it is necessary for the industry to ‘ship in’ women from poorer countries to service that increased demand if they opt for legalisation or full decriminalisation.
    It is interesting of course that this model began in the Scandinavian countries; places that time and again top the bill for gendered and socio-economic equality. The Nordic Model is a holistic system of social progression for all.

  • melissa

    Finally, some great news! 😀

  • Lucia Lola

    Fantastic, wonderful news! Make this go world round!

  • lagattamontral

    The Guardian published a story, but as with many papers, the illustration is a very “staged” sex worker demo:

    • will

      Yes, that photo is annoying. It looks as if it’s a pretty small crowd, shot to make it look as large as possible.

      • Yes the camera is positioned close to the crowd and near the centre of it so that a group with a maximum size of fourty (probably smaller) looks like a decent sized protest.

        Also I cannot help but notice that all but one of the “sex workers” are dressed modesty (in warm clothes). Apparently displaying your butts and boobs out on the street in the middle of a cold night so that men want to buy your “product” is empowering, but in the warmer daylight hours it somehow stops being empowering. If dressing that way in the cold is so great why don´t they do it always?

        • lagattamontral

          For what it is worth, this seems to be a demonstration by trans sex workers. I’m just saying that as information – actually transpeople, who suffer terrible workplace discrimination, are overrepresented in the sexworkforce for that reason. But they could still have a “male” outlook in some respects.

  • fragglerock

    Yes!! Now, the U.S.!

  • oneclickboedicea

    Great work sisters in France. Next the UK and US – tough nuts to crack.

  • Césarion

    Well for once I’m glad to be French. The dogs bark, but the caravan goes on. Queer/3rd wave feminists and conservatives are a mess and try desperately to be heard, but at last we’ve won. Hopefully it will expand to other countries (the best way to make it work).

    • Tired feminist

      Yes! I hope France sets an example for Germany to wake up!

    • lagattamontral

      Césarion, the only nuance I’d bring to what you said is that “queer” can mean many things, and not necessarily enablers of the sexual exploitation of women (or other vulnerable people).

      • radwonka

        well most people who call themselves “”queer”” support libfem ideology.

  • Cassandra

    This news about France in regard to prostitution made me “whoop!” for joy. That so many people (mostly men + assorted handmaidens) don’t or won’t understand that buying access to women’s internal organs is rape and a form of slavery that makes mincemeat out of poor women is astounding. There’s hope yet!!

  • julia

    This is wonderful!
    Thank you for such a good post. I never thought that a country like France would do this, but I haven’t been there since I lived there 20 years ago, and obviously, things have changed :).

  • Meghan Murphy

    Survivors HAVE been speaking up about their experiences in prostitution and advocating for the Nordic model. Do women and survivors not count unless they choose to publicly identify as “sex workers” and support legalization?

  • marv
  • Alienigena

    Like others have pointed out sex workers are not a monolithic group with one perspective or one set of life experiences. And economic need is a kind of coercion. Feminism is a movement that makes money … for whom? When was formally a member of a feminist organization (on their board) I was a volunteer and didn’t even receive an honorarium for attending board meetings (or for the hundreds of hours of work I did for them each year (viewing films, working on their website, producing ads, etc.). Unlike members of corporate boards … do you have any outrage left to expend on them? The only time I was reimbursed was for out of town travel. Your comments smack of delusional thinking.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right exactly. Where the fuck do all these people who think feminists are somehow profiting in any notable way from this movement are getting all this money from? As someone who actually does try to make a living from writing, and whose writing is almost exclusively focused on feminism, I’ll tell ya it’s not easy and it never will be easy… And the women I know who work for rape crisis shelters are not getting rich off that work by any means. Most women in the movement are not being reimbursed in any way, as you say. If you are doing work as part of this movement, the reality is that most — if not all — of that work will be unpaid. What a ludicrous myth.

  • Tired feminist

    “would make profiteers of this movement loose [sic] money”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Only if by “movement” you mean the sex industry lobby. Because THEY are the ones making a shit load of money under decrim.