France: Parliament Approves Law Banning Payments for Sex
Wednesday, April 13, 2016 12:00 PM

Last week, the French Parliament approved a new law that criminalizes paying for sex. Men convicted under the law face fines of up to Euro 3500 (approx. $4000). Additionally, the law decriminalizes the sale of sex by lifting France’s existing ban on solicitation, authorizes funding to assist women and girls who wish to leave the sex trade, and allows foreign-born prostitutes to apply for temporary residence and work permits. The bill’s supporters argue the law will help combat human trafficking in France by reducing the demand for sexually exploited women and girls, many of whom are trafficked into France from other countries. As reported by France24, the bill’s author, Maud Olivier, said, “The goal is to diminish [prostitution], protect prostitutes who want to quit, and change mentalities” about the harms caused by prostitution. Critics say the bill could “push” more vulnerable women into the poorly policed online world of commercial sexual exploitation. 

The issue of penalizing sex buyers while protecting prostituted women from prosecution, also known as the “Nordic Model”, has been widely debated in France. Last year, the French Senate rejected a similar anti-prostitution bill approved by the National Assembly in late 2013. However, the National Assembly last week used its power to over-ride the Senate when the “two chambers [of Parliament] do not agree."

France joins several countries, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Canada in adopting the Nordic Model or similar approach to combating trafficking and the commercial exploitation of women and girls for sex. Additionally, in 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution urging member states to reduce demand for commercial sexual exploitation by punishing sex buyers, citing research that shows the concept of voluntary sex work in Europe is largely a myth and that women engaged in the industry experience significant trauma and violence. 

Compiled from: Rubin, Alyssa, To Discourage Prostitution, France Passes Bill That Penalizes Clients, The New York Times (April 6, 2016); Chebil, Mehdi, Prostitutes divided as France bans paying for sex, France24 (April 7, 2016); Europe: Council of Europe Endorses Nordic Model to Punish Buyers of Sex and Combat Sex Trafficking, (April 14, 2014).