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Prostitution law for or against?

Experts tell us why they think prostitution should - or should not - be outlawed

IT HAS been nearly two years since the National Assembly voted a unanimous resolution to create a society “without prostitution”, however the follow-up law never made it on to the parliamentary timetable.

Successive health and women’s ministers from the UMP and the Socialist Party have spoken of their will to tackle the issue, President Hollande has said it is “an affront to human rights” and called for reflection on the subject but no concrete proposals have been made. A cross-party parliamentary committee was due to report on the issue in the autumn. Meanwhile, the most recent political manoeuvre was a vote in the Senate to legalise soliciting.
At present, prostitution is legal but soliciting (either on the streets or the internet) is not, and neither is living off someone else’s “immoral earnings”. It is also illegal to keep a brothel.
Connexionspoke to people on both sides of the debate below.
Tell us your view at news[at]

Claire Quidet works for Mouvement du Nid (, an association ­dedicated to supporting prostitutes, helping them out of prostitution and abolishing it.

What is the problem?
Prostitution is a system of extreme violence against women so it must be stopped. But the current law is incoherent. On one hand it is ­illegal to live off immoral earnings, but the state levies income tax on prostitutes’ earnings. So in a sense the French state is a pimp. The law should be the framework of a coherent global strategy for ending prostitution.

What is the solution?
Criminalising prostitutes for their activities is like arresting rape victims. What we need are reinforced laws against pimping, and against paying for sex. We have to offer ­prostitutes real options to rejoin mainstream society, with training, psychological and medical help, employment and housing. And we need to end social tolerance towards the men who buy sex.

Are prostitutes victims?
Some 80-90% of prostitutes in France are ­foreign, many of them trafficked, and they have no choice. So, yes, they are victims. For the ­others, it’s difficult to say. Everyone’s life story is different. But we have to look more at the buyers and less at the prostitutes. Is it ­legitimate to buy a sexual act? Is that ­permissible? Is it excusable to impose a sexual act on a person who has no desire other than a need to make money?

Do prostitutes need protecting?
Yes, they need laws to help them out of the shame and the shadows without fear of being arrested. We need to understand that, as victims, they need help and healing.

If it were possible, would it be a good idea to ban prostitution completely?
Of course. Slavery is illegal and it still exists, but at least most people are against slavery. The
vast majority know it’s wrong. So we need ­mentalities to evolve. I think in the future people will look back and be amazed that anyone could defend prostitution.

Are clients victims, abusers or consumers?
In some senses, the men are also victims of a social system which has taught them that they have the right to sex at any time and that they can buy sex, but this doesn’t excuse them. It’s still wrong, and they are responsible for being wrong. All the research points to clients being abusers. Men sometimes think they have a unique relationship with a prostitute, that the prostitute is glad to see them. But she is obliged to pretend to be glad to see them because she needs the money. That’s mad. It’s also mad to claim that clients are helping women earn money by prostituting them.

And what about people trafficking?
We need special laws for trafficked women who become prostitutes because they are in terrible situations. They can’t turn to the law, they can’t get other jobs, they are completely caught in a bad net. Trafficking and prostitution often go hand in hand. Traffickers supply a market.
As soon as you legalise ­prostitution or pimping, you encourage trafficking. You encourage the idea that it’s okay to buy a human being. You encourage a massively profitable business. So we have to root it out at the start.

Who is responsible for ­prostitution continuing? The clients, the pimps, or the prostitutes?
Society in general allows it to continue. We don’t struggle against it, we are complacent, we believe it’s in men’s nature, that men denied prostitutes will become rapists, that prostitutes like it, that prostitution is okay as long as it’s invisible. We think that the fault lies with the prostitutes.

So in an ideal world?
We would not have sex imposed on women, via rape, by harassment at work, by prostitution, or any other way. Pornography supports sexual violence by portraying women as objects. All this violence and male domination has to be ended so that men and women can be truly equal, truly free of an old patriarchal model so that their relationships are based only on desire. Desire should be free and equal.

Aurélien Palomares works with the Cabiria Association (, which works to protect, inform and support prostitutes.

What is the problem?
At the moment, the law against soliciting openly on the streets or the internet has driven prostitutes further out of view. But hiding from the police makes them more vulnerable to ­violence, and gives them less access to medical and social services.

What is the solution?
The laws against soliciting need to be ­abandoned, along with the law about immoral earnings. At the moment an adult child living with a prostituted parent could be accused of living off immoral earnings. So could a landlord who rents a flat to a prostitute, even if no prostitution was carried out on the premises. And penalising clients won’t help because the effect will just be to drive the profession even further underground.

Are prostitutes victims?
Some of them are victims in the sense of not having real choices, but others are people earning their living in a ­legitimate career. I think only prostitutes ­themselves can decide whether or not they are victims. Deciding for them is a way of not respecting their opinion. But I do agree that people should only become prostitutes by choice and not by lack of choice.

Do prostitutes need protecting?
Yes, they need protection from institutional ­violence, from the police, and from street ­violence. There are too many cases of police refusing to act on a report of rape when it comes from a sex worker. Also, prostitutes are stigmatised unfairly. They should have the same respect as bakers, and should for example be able to change careers easily and without ­hiding their past. After all, prostitution itself is legal. So why shouldn’t it get the same respect as other services?

If it were possible, would it be a good idea to ban prostitution completely?
Well, of course it isn’t possible to ban it, but even if it were possible, I don’t know if it would be a good idea. I’d like to see prostitution conducted openly and freely. I don’t want the law to tell people what to do with their bodies. Many laws do that, especially when it comes to women: for example, the headscarf is banned in France and mandatory in Iran and both laws are bad in my opinion. It isn’t for the state to judge sexuality.

Are clients victims, abusers or consumers?
As long as they respect the bargain they have made with the prostitute, they are just ­consumers, but if they are violent or don’t respect the bargain then they are aggressors.

And what about people trafficking?
There are people from Africa who have arrived in France illegally via a trafficker who don’t have working papers, plus some Eastern Europeans don’t have working papers, and these people end up working as prostitutes because they have no choice and/or to repay their traffickers. I think to stop this, we just have to give them legal ­working papers. But here we enter the whole universe of economic migration. But the only way to stop illegal ­immigration is to provide more legal ways.

Who is responsible for ­prostitution continuing? The clients, the pimps, or the prostitutes?
It’s a chicken and egg question. There are three components; power, money and sex... not only in the sex industry, but everywhere. But why focus on one aspect and not others? Many marriages are also an exchange of sex for economic stability.

So in an ideal world?
I’d like prostitution seen as a profession, with all the same rights and respect as in other professions. But I’d also like to see a different, more equal and open view of sexuality. The fact that women generally don’t buy services from prostitutes is because they are culturally conditioned to link sex with love, motherhood, religion. But women and men could have more equal views of their sexuality. Their differing attitudes are purely cultural. Banning stuff – alcohol, cannabis, pornography, etc – never stops it, but always leads to it being more dangerous, less organised, and less supervised.

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