Europe’s anti-prostitution initiatives multiply: EU itself and now France

Anyone with romantic ideas about Europe’s sophisticated tolerance of all matters sexual is due for disenchantment. A Europe free from prostitution is the name of the European Women’s Lobby’s campaign, which I find questionable because they receive public funding from the EU yet several member states permit and regulate at least some forms of selling sex. But the EWL have always had a political commitment ‘to work towards a Europe free from prostitution, by supporting key abolitionist principles which state that the prostitution of women and girls constitutes a fundamental violation of women’s human rights, a serious form of male violence against women, and a key obstacle to gender equality in our societies.

Then last December the European Parliament passed new rules against trafficking that included the recommendation ‘to discourage demand, Member States should also consider taking measures to establish as a criminal offence the use of services of a victim, with the knowledge that he/she has been trafficked.’ This is a perfect example of the slide between anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution.

However, France has responded positively to the idea and is now the latest country to put criminalising clients of sex workers on the mainstream political agenda. Note that sponsorship of the law comes from both left- and right-wing parties (this is usual). And that France has prohibited indoor prostitution (maisons closes/brothels) for 65 years and persecutes migrant sex workers regularly outdoors. Forget the romantic cliché.

France considers making prostitution illegal – Excerpts from The Telegraph, 14 April 2011

A parliamentary commission of French MPs on Wednesday recommended treating the clients of prostitutes as criminals who should face fines of up to £2,500 or prison. The Socialist Danielle Bousquet and Guy Geoffroy of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP said that 80 per cent of the estimated 20,000 sex-workers in France were foreigners and victims of slavery or trafficking. [Note from LA: this claim from a UN report in 2009 has never been and cannot be substantiated.]

“To penalise clients is to make them understand that they are participating in a form of exploitation of the vulnerability of others,” said their report. Roselyne Bachelot, the social affairs minister, said she supported the proposals. “There is no such thing as freely chosen and consenting prostitution. The sale of sexual acts means women’s bodies are made available for men, independently of the wishes of those women.”

While proposals for a law could be drawn up this month, it is unlikely to reach parliament before next year. In France brothels have been illegal since 1946 and pimping is against the law as is paying for sex with a minor. But prostitution is not outlawed. Mr Sarkozy toughened prostitution rules in 2003 while interior minister in a controversial law forbidding women to loiter in prostitution hang outs in revealing clothes. Sex-workers’ groups in France regularly stage demonstrations demanding a proper legal status. A recent survey found six out of ten French men and women wanted brothels to be legalised. . .

Les deux cotés du debat, de Libération

14 thoughts on “Europe’s anti-prostitution initiatives multiply: EU itself and now France

  1. Sina

    “There is no such thing as freely chosen and consenting prostitution” I really don’t understand how people who state such blatant lies can still be taken seriously. Same applies to claims that all migrant sex workers are trafficking victims when it’s so obvious that selling sex may be a lucrative option for them. Sigh…

  2. Maggie McNeill

    Sina, I think for some of them they’re not exactly “lies” in the sense of deliberate falsehoods; I think some of these women are so fanatically anti-sex that they honestly believe this tripe just as a religious fundamentalist might truly believe the earth is only 6000 years old. The sad part is that the politicians who do know better are willing to get in bed with these lunatics in order to establish even more laws which they can use to spread paranoia and ruin the lives of people who get in their way. 🙁

  3. Laura Agustín

    when they say ‘there is no such thing’ they aren’t talking about what actual human beings say but about ideology. they want to establish victory in a feminist war.

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  5. LH

    Yet, unfortunately, I’m increasingly beginning to believe, that generally (though in France aggravated by law) there is way too little solidarity amongst sex workers, while on top of that there seems to be a clear split between the indigenous ones and the ones from abroad.
    Nevertheless, it’s the foreigners that are now being used as an excuse to attack the trade as a whole, so the attitude I seem to have noted amongst indigenous workers, believing that in some way they are something better, may blow up in their own faces.

    Sex workers should really start getting way more vocal than they tend to be, understanding to be in the same boat, wherever they’re from. Though I admit, in France this is even more problematic, as they are forced by law to work individually, and are therefore even more put into a position of constant competition than they usually are already.

  6. Laura Agustín

    lh, why should a totally general category, ‘sex workers’, comprised of millions of different kinds of people, be expected to agree about everything and always feel in solidarity to each other? it isn’t reasonable, you wouldn’t ask it of ‘business men’ or ‘doctors’ or ‘administrative personnel’. in general sex workers want to not be abused by police or customers or feminists or rescue agents, and you may read international manifestos and declarations on many general principles. but to expect individual workers never to feel annoyed or competitive is asking too much.

  7. Iamcuriousblue

    “Member States should also consider taking measures to establish as a criminal the use of services of a victim, with the knowledge that he/she has been trafficked.’ ”

    Well, I really don’t see what’s so bad about that in itself. That is actually the law in Finland, which they adopted as a sensible alternative to Swedish-style laws after sex worker lobbying against them. The UK has similar laws, albeit, in bad faith because they criminalize a client even buying the services of a coerced person unknowingly and defines coercion rather broadly. It’s good that the EU has not floated a recommendation for blanket criminalization of clients, which shows groups like the EWL have not completely managed to seize control of European laws on the sex trade.

  8. Laura Agustín

    what’s wrong is that no one can define trafficking so that the law doesn’t oppress a lot of people. in theory a law that only gets the ‘real’ bad guys is good, but this simply isn’t the case with any of the trafficking initiatives.

  9. Niko Korhonen

    Criminalizing buying sex only in casual relations is discrimination of sexual minority – single people. If a single wants to have sex he/she can have only casual sex.

    If buying sex is allowed in marriages or marriage-like relations and illegal in casual relations this is clear discrimination of singles.
    How much You earn – how much your wife?

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