France introduces fines for buying sex

A new law that will punish prostitutes’ clients goes before parliament this week, and is dividing feminists

Catherine Deneuve, who played a prostitue on film, is against. Sylviane Agacinski, one of France’s most respected philosophers, is for. Elisabeth Badinter, another feminist philosopher, is against. Should people who pay for sex be arrested, punished and forced to attend “re-education” classes?

A draft law that goes before the French parliament this week – and which has a good chance of passing in some form – will introduce a €1,500 (£1,250) fine, rising to €3,000 at the second offence, for prostitutes’ clients. Paradoxically, the proposed law would also make it easier for women, or men, to offer their bodies for sale on the streets. It would increase state funds to help prostitutes seek different lives. It would make it easier for foreign prostitutes to denounce traffickers and remain legally in France.

Supporters say this is a long overdue attempt to end the hypocrisies and contradictions surrounding prostitution in France. At present, prostitution is illegal in principle, but it is not illegal to be a prostitute. It is illegal to run a brothel or to be a pimp or to solicit even “passively” in public. It is not illegal to sell your body – or “buy” someone else’s.

Opponents of the new law – including several groups who represent the estimated 40,000 prostitutes in France – say it will make paid-for sex less legally coherent and more dangerous. If clients are forced underground, prostitutes will be, too. They will, more than ever, be at the mercy of traffickers, pimps and violent clients. The debate was last month complicated by a group of 19 male celebrities and semi-celebrities who called themselves the “343 salauds” or “343 bastards”. They signed a petition concocted by libertarian magazine Causeur, which concluded with the slogan “Touche pas a ma pute” (“Don’t mess with my whore”).

The petition – against “sexual correctness” and in favour of a man’s right to buy physical pleasure – infuriated feminist groups. It also infuriated prostitutes’ trade union Strass (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel) which agreed with the “bastards’” on the law but hated their jaunty attitude and their use of the insult “pute”. The secretary general of Strass, Morgane Merteuil, said that the “343 bastards” were “defending a right to screw us, while we are defending our right not to die of hunger”.

Another, more temperately worded petition was signed by a list of French celebrities, including actress Catherine Deneuve, who played a prostitute in the 1967 Luis Buñuel film Belle de Jour. Ms Deneuve and others wrote: “Without condoning or encouraging prostitution, we reject criminal penalties … which will merely drive prostitutes further underground.”

The argument against the draft law was also made eloquently in the newspaper Le Monde by Elisabeth Badinter, a feminist philosopher whose views often infuriate other feminists. “How can you permit women to prostitute themselves but forbid men to use their services? That is incoherent and unjust,” she said.

Ms Badinter argues that feminists should defend the “right of women to do as they please with their bodies”. A more orthodox feminist view is represented by Sylviane Agacinski, author of a book on the sexual exploitation of women. She says that prostitution is an “archaic” form of female “servitude” which is “intrinsically dangerous” for the “physical and mental health” of women.

The draft law seems likely to pass the lower house, or National Assembly, but will be opposed in the upper house, or Sénat. Most argument has focused on Article 16, which penalises clients. But the law would also make it easier for prostitutes to ply their trade. It would scrap a 2003 law, that bans soliciting on the streets.

But how can a law make it easier to sell sex while penalising its buyers? Hélène de Rugy runs a prostitutes’ support group, Amicale du Nid, which backs the new law. She said: “The 2003 law penalises the victims, the prostitutes themselves. The new law penalises people who exploit what the UN declared in 1949, and France in 1960, to be a form of violence against women. This law is more coherent, not less.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before