"Today is a historical date because France chooses the path we want to see in Europe. Equality can be achieved only if the system of prostitution is abolished, together with all the violence, exploitation and trafficking that it fuels!”, says Viviane Teitelbaum, President of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL).
Yesterday the French National Assembly voted 64-12 to become the fifth European country to adopt the Nordic Model and commit to abolitionism, in a bill that introduces punishment for the payment of sex acts.
The new French law, debated and redrafted in Parliament four times between 2013-2016, comprises a series of measures that support and protect prostituted persons and abolish any form of repression against them, as well as condemning all forms of pimping and trafficking.
Penalising clients will push prostitution even further underground, and will make it harder for the police to fight against trafficking and pimping.
It also seeks to develop real alternatives and exit programmes for prostituted persons, as well as criminalising the purchase of sex by introducing a €1500 fine ($2250) that would rise to €3750 for a sex buyer's second offence. By preventing prostitution through education and awareness raising actions, France's adoption of the Nordic Model is seen as "more than a quick-fix to prostitution", and ambitiously looks to offer a viable way-out to women trapped into sexual exploitation.
A number of feminist activists and groups such as the European Women’s Lobby and several European parliamentarians hail this as a victory for women’s rights. According to Nathalie Griesbeck, EU MEP, the decision taken by France is “an important step in the struggle for dignity, equality between sexes and respect for human rights”.
In a press release, Ressources Prostitution notes that adopting this law "ensures France is in compliance with international and national human rights commitments, including the United Nations convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949)", as well as France’s national rape law, which defines rape as “any act of penetration imposed on someone by violence, surprise, threat, or coercion.” By recognizing that buying sexual access to another person’s body is inherently an act of coercion, feminist activists argue that "French parliamentarians have recognized that prostitution harms women and society as a whole."
It is an important step in the struggle for dignity, equality between sexes and respect for human rights
However, not everyone is in favour of France adopting the Nordic model, as some including French politician Jacques Toubon, argue that penalising clients will push prostitution even further underground, and will make it harder for the police to fight against trafficking and pimping.
Outside the French parliament, sex workers staged a protest, holding banners with slogans such as "Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of myself!", and "Sex work is work". Morgane Merteuil, spokeswoman for Strass (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel, a French sex-workers' union) said of the bill that “We will simply face more poverty, more violence and more stigmatisation."
- 99% of prostitution customers in France are male. 41% are married.
- 80% of prostitutes in France are victims of human trafficking
- There are 37,000 prostitutes in France
For more information on prostitution, see the video below: