France Prostitution Bill Could Ban Paying For Sex: Country Cracking Down On Trafficking

France is taking a "two birds, one stone" approach to prostitution and human trafficking: on Wednesday morning, the French parliament passed a bill that would decriminalize prostitutes, and slap their customers with a fine. This is actually a much tougher stance on prostitution than most of Europe: the practice was previously legalized, and it's estimated that most prostitutes in France were victims of human trafficking. Wednesday's bill passed overwhelmingly, with a final vote count of 268 to 138, and will now go to France’s Senate, where it's expected to face more opposition.

The stated reason for the bill, which would impose a 1,500 euro (about $2,000) fine on customers, is concern over most of France’s prostitutes are no longer “free agents." Free agents are the kind of empowered women that sex-work advocates like to imagine comprise the trade. But the government suggests that about 90 percent of France’s prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, arriving via Nigeria, China, or Romania. Estimates say that, a decade ago, only 20 percent of prostitutes were foreign.

Of course, it’s also part of a rise in vocal social-conservatism in France, which recently reared its head in the battle over same-sex marriage. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the French women's rights minister, has declared that any form of prostitution is unacceptable to her — and the goal is to end it altogether.

Sex workers and advocates are already alarmed about what it will do to the trade. Some say that the specter of the law has already hurt business. "Already, in the past two weeks we have felt the pinch," a prostitute under the pseudonym Sarah told Reuters. “The clients aren't coming... and the few clients that do come all ask me the same questions: 'Is the law going through? What are we going to do?’”

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