French Law Making Paying For Sex A Crime Upheld As Constitutional

French sex workers went to the country’s Constitutional Council on Friday, in an attempt to challenge a 2016 law that they say not only violates their sexual—and commercial—freedom, but also endangers their lives and has been responsible for the death of a sex worker already. As reported, the law effectively legalizes prostitution, but makes paying for sex a crime, shifting the criminal responsibility to paying customers rather than the sex workers themselves.

The sex workers say that by turning paying customers into criminals, all the law has accomplished is forcing sex workers to acceded to greater customer demands for secrecy, taking their activities to more hidden and perilous places that even police normally avoid. In August of 2016, 36-year-old Peruvian transgender sex worker Vanesa Campos was murdered in just such a place, as the BBC reported, taking a bullet in a heavily wooded and isolated area of a large Parisian public park when assailants attempted to rob her client.

Nonetheless, as the French Press Agency reported on Friday, the Constitutional Council failed to be persuaded by the group of 30 sex workers and nine rights organizations, not only upholding the law but also saying that it actually increased safety for prostitutes "by depriving pimps of their profits.”

The Council ruled that the law "fights against this activity and against the sexual exploitation of human beings, criminal activities founded on coercion and enslavement."

Under the law, a client of prostitutes can be fined up to $1,700 for a first offense, with penalties hitting $4,200 for repeat patrons. French authorities are serious about enforcing the law, making about 2,800 arrests since the legislation passed about two-and-a-half years ago, according to a New York Times report.

But in France, the issue of criminalizing prostitution is not only a matter of personal and sexual freedom, but an immigration issue as well. With, by government estimates, about 93 percent of France’s roughly 30,000 prostitutes being foreigners, the crackdown on paying customers directly affects the livelihood, and safety, of thousands of migrants in the country.

The French sex workers said that they have seen a steep drop in business since the law passed, and that has forced them to acquiesce to the often hazardous sexual demands—including unprotected sex—of customers who remain and brave the legal penalties. 

Photo by France 3 YouTube Screen Capture