France: French National Assembly Imposes New Penalties for Buying Sex
Friday, February 21, 2014 8:50 AM

The French National Assembly recently approved dramatic reforms to the country's prostitution laws by imposing harsh penalties on sex buyers while insulating sellers of sex from criminal sanctions and offering them assistance in exiting the sex market. Current French law does not ban prostitution, criminalizing only the acts of solicitiation and "pimping". French lawmakers have expressed concern about the growing role of organized crime in trafficking prostituted women in France under France's loose prostitution laws. The new legislation, passed in late 2013, reflects the view held by a large majority of the French population that prostitution is harmful not only to women, but to society as a whole and should be abolished.  

If the French Senate also approves the bill later this year, France will have one of the toughest anti-prostitution laws in Europe. The issue has sparked heated debate in France about the government’s role in the regulation of prostitution. In this instance, France has chosen to emulate the “Nordic” model of Sweden, Iceland and Norway by refusing to accept prostitution as “inevitable.” Other countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands and Germany, have legalized prostitution believing that this would make women safer by preventing violence and the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Instead, police and elected officials in these countries are struggling to control alarming increases in the trafficking of women and girls for sex, particularly undocumented foreign-born women, to meet the demand created by legalization. As legal and illegal brothels multiply, there is no evidence that legalization has made women safer or done anything to address the violence, abuse and degradation suffered by prostituted women and girls.

The French Assembly, by rejecting legalization of prostitution, has acknowledged the links between prostitution, trafficking and the exploitation of women and the incompatibility of prostitution with gender equality and fundamental human rights. This action is the country’s first step towards abolishing prostitution by punishing the sex buyer rather than the seller, in hopes of eventually eliminating the demand for commercial sex. 

Compiled from: Bien-Aime, Taina, France Takes First Steps Towards Abolition of Prostitution, The World Post (February 2014); Vinocur, Nicholas and Picy, Emile, Controversial Prostitution Law Approved By France's National Assembly, The Huffington Post and Reuters (December 4, 2013).