The Netherlands went the other way, legalizing prostitution in 2000. But the policy has come in for criticism for playing into the hands of criminals and human traffickers who exploit women. The government is now aiming to crack down on human trafficking by tightening laws.
Supporters of the French draft law argue that it could reduce sex trafficking and empower prostitutes.
“The current law is not on our side so we keep being trapped in that system, and the client knows that, he plays with that. When we hear about ‘prostitution by choice,’ I think that it is still prostitution as violence toward women, and we cannot keep tolerating that violence anymore,” said Rosen Hicher, 57, who was a prostitute from 1988 to 2009.
“One day, a client told me: ‘If you don’t accept to do it without condom, I will call the police,'” she told a news conference. “I was able to say to him: ‘clear off’. But another one wouldn’t because she would be under control of a pimp or would be sold by her husband, her father or her brother.”
Opponents of the French bill argue the opposite, and fear that cracking down will push prostitutes into a dangerous position: Being forced to hide, they would be even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients, and cut off from the organizations able to help them.
“More clandestine practices means we would find ourselves in more secluded places, and therefore subject to possible violence,” Thierry Schaffauser, a 31-year old escort and spokesman for sex workers’ group Strass, told The Associated Press.
And in dealings with the client, he said, prostitutes would “have less power because when you make less profit, you might have to accept clients that you wouldn’t normally accept, accept doing something you might not have accepted before.”
A contentious open letter titled “Hands off my whore” was released last month by a group of men, including a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, in favor of a man’s right to buy physical pleasure.
And earlier this month, a petition emerged, signed by 60 celebrities, including Deneuve and Aznavour, saying: “Without supporting or promoting prostitution, we reject the penalization of those who prostitute themselves and those who buy their services, and we ask for a real debate without ideological prejudice.”
Among them was a former minister of culture and education, Jack Lang, who told the AP that he is “very cautious about penalizing clients — for reasons of principle, of personal belief, kind of subjective reasons. That must not be a hasty decision.”