France divided over prostitution crackdown

Thu Nov 28, 2013 10:08am EST
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By Ingrid Melander

PARIS (Reuters) - Local movie stars have signed petitions, political parties are split, and sex workers complain the government is doing them out of a living. France is divided over a bid to crack down on prostitution.

Lawmakers will start debating on Friday a bill aimed at stemming prostitution with steep fines to clients - a radical switch from France's traditionally tolerant stance that will give it some of the toughest legislation in Europe.

It comes just months after the country was similarly split over a move by President Francois Hollande's Socialist-led government to legalize gay marriage, which he billed as the keynote social reform of his five-year mandate.

"Without the client, there is no prostitution ring, there is no ... trafficking of human beings. That's the fight we're waging," said lawmaker Guy Geoffroy, one of the opposition conservative deputies who have rallied to the draft law.

Some 90 percent of France's estimated 20,000 to 40,000 prostitutes are foreign, mostly victims of Nigerian, Chinese and Romanian human trafficking networks, the government says.

That is a very different picture from just over a decade ago when only one in five prostitutes were foreign and mafia rings much less omnipresent - one of the main reasons why the law needs tightening, proponents say.

But 50-year old Sandra fumes in her fake fur hat and leopard top and boots that the draft bill is missing the point and will put women like her, a prostitute for 25 years with no pimp, out of work without fighting mafia rings.

"We pay tax, we pay social security contributions. Isn't there enough unemployment as it is not to put us out of business?" she asked as she waited for clients on a central Paris street.   Continued...

A prostitute waits for customers along a road of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann