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
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Bob Dylan
art
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?