(Photo: Reuters/Charles Platiau)
France, long known for its laissez-faire attitudes towards sex, is cracking down on prostitution after a historic vote that could move the country towards criminalizing the sex trade.
Lawmakers in the country's National Assembly, the parliament's lower house, have passed a bill that will impose a fine of at least 1,500 euros ($2,170) for clients who pay for sex services.
While prostitutes would be decriminalized under the new bill, the minister of women's rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has stated that the government's mission is to ultimately "abolish" prostitution altogether in France.
The law is a stand, she said, that will hopefully protect women and men trafficked from countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Nigeria and China by violent gangs and forced into prostitution rings, The Economist reports.
The anti-prostitution legislation is one of the most restrictive in Europe, but it's also been deeply divisive in France. Some sex workers and their customers have taken to the streets to protest the restriction on their sexual freedoms. The photo above features sex worker activists demonstrating against the law in Paris last week.
Opponents of the bill included several prominent French celebrities, among them actress Catherine Deneuve (who herself played a prostitute in 1967's Belle de Jour), as well as a group of men who signed a "Manifesto of the 343 Bastards" using the slogan "Touche pas à ma pute" ("Hands off my whore").
It's estimated that there are between 20,000 and 40,000 prostitutes in France, and the French Socialist government has said that 90 per cent of sex workers in the country are victims of trafficking networks.
The National Assembly voted 268-138 to pass the bill, which now goes to the senate. In the meantime, as Tim Leicester of the NGO Medecins du Monde noted to the BBC, there is some concern that threats to punish people who pay for sex could drive the business further underground.
"That won't change anything for prostitutes," he said. "They will be forced to continue to hide themselves because even if they are not risking arrest, their clients are. And their survival depends on their clients."
Via The Economist