French Sex Workers Challenge 2016 Law Banning Payment For Sex

A controversial French law passed in 2016 that shifted the criminal responsibility for prostitution from the sellers to the buyers has come under a challenge in court by a group of French sex workers, backed by a consortium of non-profits and activist groups, who say that the law has made work as a prostitute more dangerous, not less as the law was supposedly intended. The sex workers also say the law violates their sexual and commercial freedoms. 

After a three-year battle in the French national assembly, the law finally passed, essentially legalizing prostitution by removing all fines and other criminal penalties for providing sexual services in exchange for payment, as CNN reported

Instead, France made the customers of prostitutes the criminals, outlawing the practice of paying cash for sex—something that, under the law, remained legal to sell. Paying for sex, under the law, now carries a fine of about $1,700 for a first offense and up to $4,200 for repeat customers. Prostitution consumers who get caught under the law must also attend a workshop to be educated on the conditions of life for a sex worker.

But sex workers in France say that rather than protecting their safety, the law has driven their business farther into the shadows, and as a result, put them in a higher degree of physical danger. They blame the law for the murder last August of Vanessa Campos, a 36-year-old Peruvian transgender sex worker who was killed in a dark, wooded area of the Bois de Boulogne, a public park on the outskirts of France, by criminals attempting to rob her client, who survived the attack, according to The New York Times

“Girls are now forced to hide and promise their clients that the police won’t find them,” sex worker-turned-activist Giovanna Rincon told The Times. which reported that there are an estimated 30,000 prostitutes in France, with 93 percent of them, like Campos, foreign nationals. “Today, they work in places where we, the old guard working at the Bois de Boulogne, would never have set foot.”

The group of about 30 prostitutes and activists took their cause to France’s Constitutional Council last week, citing the Campos case—as well as arguing that the law “infantilizes” prostitutes.  "Who are you to forbid me from doing what I want with my body?" one asked at the hearing, according to the news site The Local. 

The Council is expected to hand down a decision on whether the law is compatible with the French Constitution on February 1.

Photo By Wikimedia Commons Public Domain