The Independent 25 November 2013
Catherine Deneuve, who played a prostitue on film, is against. Sylviane Agacinski, one of France’s most respected philosophers, is for. Elisabeth Badinter, another feminist philosopher, is against. Should people who pay for sex be arrested, punished and forced to attend “re-education” classes?
A draft law that goes before the French parliament this week – and which has a good chance of passing in some form – will introduce a €1,500 (£1,250) fine, rising to €3,000 at the second offence, for prostitutes’ clients. Paradoxically, the proposed law would also make it easier for women, or men, to offer their bodies for sale on the streets. It would increase state funds to help prostitutes seek different lives. It would make it easier for foreign prostitutes to denounce traffickers and remain legally in France.
Supporters say this is a long overdue attempt to end the hypocrisies and contradictions surrounding prostitution in France. At present, prostitution is illegal in principle, but it is not illegal to be a prostitute. It is illegal to run a brothel or to be a pimp or to solicit even “passively” in public. It is not illegal to sell your body – or “buy” someone else’s.
Opponents of the new law – including several groups who represent the estimated 40,000 prostitutes in France – say it will make paid-for sex less legally coherent and more dangerous. If clients are forced underground, prostitutes will be, too. They will, more than ever, be at the mercy of traffickers, pimps and violent clients. The debate was last month complicated by a group of 19 male celebrities and semi-celebrities who called themselves the “343 salauds” or “343 bastards”. They signed a petition concocted by libertarian magazine Causeur, which concluded with the slogan “Touche pas a ma pute” (“Don’t mess with my whore”).