In December 2011 a debate about prostitution was re-energized in France when the National Assembly expressed an aspiration to criminalize sex buying. Prostitution is currently admissible in France but to “actively offer sexual services” as well as all types of pimping is illegal. The vague law leads to protests from all sides. “Mouvement du Nid”, an organization which opposes all kinds of prostitution states that the police and judicial system lack the means to get at pimping and exploitation. “STRASS”, a non-profit association consisting of independent sex workers, protest that sex workers are harassed by indiscriminate police decisions.
Approximately 20.000 people, 85% women, sell sexual services on a regular basis in France. In 1990 it was estimated that only 20% of the female prostitutes were foreigners but today it is 90%. Romania, Bulgaria, Nigeria and China form the majority of nationalities on the street. The sex trade is estimated to be worth 2-3 billion Euro and 70% of the profit goes to economic exploitation.
The debate turned more intense in the news when the new minister for women’s rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, on June 24 stated: ”I want to put an end to prostitution”.
If we disregard classical arguments founded in sanctimonious approaches or the lack of concern for those affected or even implying no interest in changing the lives of prostitutes, the debate is between two ideologies: the ”reglementaristes” and the ”abolitionistes”.
The former advocates legalization and regulation of sexual services. The basic principles are that human trade must be fought with traditional police actions and that the voluntary prostitutes must be protected from the violence or diseases (such as AIDS) from their customers. This would work through organized sexual services, following the state laws and with the condition that the relation is with mutual respect for both partner’s volition. The idea is that an organized prostitution-operation reduces the market for human traders at the same time as they are the focus of the police. According to ”reglementaristes”, the Swedish model has not been successful in reducing human trading but the exploitation has instead moved to hotel rooms or private apartments where the prostitutes have a higher risk of being victims of violence.
”Abolitionistes” however, seek to total prohibition of all prostitution by criminalizing the buyer, according to the Swedish model. The word ”abolitioniste” is historically charged as it has been used to describe movements fighting for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty. This organization contains ”Mouvement du Nid” which has earned much legitimacy through its lengthy dedication and work with the prostitutes. They suppress the criticism of the criminalization of customers saying that it is only run by old, sanctimonious pretense.
According to ”abolitionistes”, it is virtually impossible to separate the voluntary from those who are forced to sell sex. Thus, abolishing all types of prostitution will restrict the freedom of some individuals but is the only way to finally eliminate human trade. Not unexpectedly, the ”abolitionistes” stress that the Swedish model has led to a strong decline in prostitution.
The debate is especially interesting in France as the Presidential party (Parti Socialiste) is divided when it comes to this matter and has shown disagreement. Both sides have brought intellectuals, philosophers and sociologists to participate in the debate. It shows how important it is to have researched the results achieved in Sweden, Norway and Iceland where buying sex is illegal.
Didier Schreiber for RealStars
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