I can’t help feeling that this move by the French government is a descent into the dark ages of the witch hunt, of puritanical hypocrasy where any purging of so-called immoral or undignified behaviour will only serve to push those who do suffer as a result of prostitution further underground and less able to seek help.
Regardless of our moral stance on selling bodily favours I believe we have to separate prostitution out of choice (be it economic or even psychologically unhealthy) from forced prostitution, slavery, trafficking and other forms of abuse. How can we ever expect selling sexual favours to go away, it won’t!!!! As I see it many legal and arranged marriages the world over are partisan to sexual and bodily slavery. No, please, we do not need to outlaw this, we need to address some of the real problems and perhaps help women (who want it) to feel some humanity.
‘As the public mood shifts, MPs consider six-month jail term for those caught paying for sex’
‘Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec painted them; Hugo, Balzac and Zola wrote about them; Napoleon licensed them and disgraced former presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn says he has a “horror” of them. Some even argue that they are part of France’s cultural heritage. Prostitutes have been a feature of French artistic, literary and political circles – and a target for politicians – for centuries.
On Tuesday, following the New York sex scandal earlier this year that made headlines around the world and effectively ended Strauss-Kahn’s hopes of becoming the next French president, MPs will discuss a bill that would make prostitution a crime punishable by six months in prison. Anyone caught buying sex would face a €3,000 (£2,600) fine.
Since the end of the second world war prostitution in France has been considered a matter of private choice and is not illegal. However, the government has become increasingly abolitionist and the public mood may be hardening following the Strauss-Kahn debacle. A series of unsavoury revelations regarding a high-end prostitution ring based at a luxury hotel in the northern city of Lille will also be in MPs’ minds as they vote on the bill.
In the busy Rue Saint-Denis, one of the oldest streets in Paris and a famed red light area, the prospect of forthcoming legislation was of little concern. The average age of a Parisian prostitute is said to be 40, although the age range here appears to be wide. Most are propped up in tatty doorways, or lolling on the walls between cheap clothing wholesalers, sex shops, a church and a nursery school. They share the pavements with the Indian parcel runners with their metal trolleys, curious tourists trying not to stare, parents waiting to collect children and, presumably, the punters the bill would outlaw.
The women, among the 20,000 said to work as prostitutes in France, are mostly French, independent, own their own studio flats and pay taxes. They consider themselves a higher class of working girl than the Africans, Ukrainians, and Moldovans they accuse of invading their patch and the oriental workers who hang around the nearby boulevards.
Christiane, who says she has been working the area for 39 years, is sceptical about the proposed new law.
“It’s just blah, blah, blah, because there’s an election coming up. They’ll forget about us afterwards,” she says. “I own my own apartment, I pay my taxes, what are they going to do? It’s not us they’re after, it’s them,” she nods in the direction of the Asian prostitutes. Sylvie adds: “It’s the old independent prostitutes like us who will suffer, not the pimps who exploit the black people and the Chinese.”
Several of the prostitutes are planning to take a day off and demonstrate outside the National Assembly when the bill has its first reading on Tuesday.
“Maitresse Gilda”, spokewoman for Strass, the union for sex workers, says that the cross-party team behind the bill is trying to impose puritanical northern European sexual and moral mores on France.
“If you spark prohibition you play into the hands of the pimps and mafia networks,” she said. “This law is just an excuse to clean up the streets and expel the Africans and east Europeans, among others, who work on them. It will push the women into hiding and therefore into more danger.”
The unions and associations representing French sex workers say their members are providing a “service” requiring a certain savoir-faire and experience. Abolitionists argue that prostitution is a form of violence and slavery and an affront to human dignity.
MP Guy Geoffroy, of the ruling right-of-centre UMP party, who is presenting the bill, argues the prostitutes claiming they work by choice are a minority. “They are fewer and fewer and older and older. Today, most are foreigners and part of mafia organisations where they suffer terrible treatment,” he said.’
Kim Willsher for The Observer