Is the ban on buying sex work effective? Sex workers say ‘no’ | Europe | News and events from the continent | DW

 Young Woman Holds

Sex work. Whether a country should criminalize industry is a polarizing question – and no less so in France. In 2016, lawmakers banned the buying of sex, but not the sale of it.

Today, customers face up to € 1,500 ($ 1,700) in fines for a first offense, as well as € 3,750 in fines for a repeat offense. Lawmakers at the time hailed the measure as a way to end prostitution and human trafficking while protecting sex workers.

Five years later, however, sex workers say they are more at risk than before.

Sex workers and their allies protested in Paris to overturn the 2016 bill

Cybele Lesperance, a sex worker and activist based in Chambéry, south-eastern France, was among dozens of protesters in three cities on Tuesday who demonstrated against the bill. The 39-year-old from Canada said demand for sex work is lower – but notes that sex workers find themselves in more precarious situations than ever. Part of this, activists say, is that when the purchase of sexual services is prohibited, those who tend to obey the law shy away from using those services – and those who dare to circumvent the law are often offenders with criminal history.

While the bill seeks to empower sex workers, industry players argue that buyer and supplier are not on an equal footing. They say the power has shifted to the customer, who often demands riskier practices or abnormally low prices.

“We have people who say, ‘Hey, I’m criminalized now and I’m taking the risk – you should make the effort.’ Or they say they know I don’t have a lot of clients. And now, with COVID, the law is worse. There are more threats and verbal abuse and more threats to publish your personal data on the Internet, ”Lesperance said.

This is supported by a December 2020 assessment by researchers at Sciences Po’s Institute of Political Studies in Paris, which examined the “failure” of the prostitution law to address power relations between sex workers. and customers.

More than 10 sex workers were killed in the six months to February 2020, according to a sex worker rights group.

“Lack of political commitment” to help sex workers

French Senator Annick Billon, a centrist lawmaker and chair of the delegation for women’s rights, told DW that around 5,000 fines have been imposed on buyers in France since 2016, “which is very few compared to the number of prostitutes. estimated at 40,000 ”.

In addition, 564 people have participated in support programs that help sex workers leave the industry, but only 161 sex workers have completed the process.

Billon argues that more financial resources must be devoted to the implementation of the current law. “There is a lack of [police, social workers] and financial resources to support prostitutes with paperwork, protect them, enable them to undergo vocational training and have the resources to live, ”she said in a statement to DW. There is also a lack of political commitment. “

“Paradoxically, this law may have weakened prostitutes. The decline in the number of customers, considered delinquent, has forced prostitutes to accept unsafe practices and agree to lower prices, ”Billon said. “If we had the means to fight against procuring in France as we have the means to fight against drug trafficking, we would make undeniable progress”.

Vanesa Campos, a 36-year-old migrant sex worker, was fatally shot in a forest near Paris in 2018

“No credible evidence” on the link with human trafficking

Many activists who seek to end prostitution say the sex services industry should be criminalized in order to thwart human trafficking. But studies and anti-trafficking organizations, such as La Strada International, have rejected this position, saying there is “no credible evidence” to support the theory.

La Strada International, however, said the available evidence suggests that such laws put consenting sex workers at higher risk and that there appears to be a double standard in how industries are regulated.

“When it comes to labor exploitation, for example the exploitation of agricultural workers and domestic workers – whether they work here legally or not – people seem to be saying, ‘Yes, we should give them the right to reduce exploitation, we should regulate their work and empower them. But the moment you start talking about sex workers it suddenly seems like a different question, ”Suzanne Hoff, international coordinator of La Strada International, told DW.

Sex workers in Ireland, which has banned the purchase of sex since 2017, called for safer conditions

Is the Swedish model effective?

France’s 2016 prostitution reform was inspired by Sweden, which in 1999 was the first country in the world to criminalize buying sex but not selling.

Some sex workers in Ireland, which adopted the so-called Nordic model in 2017, and Sweden told DW they were also forced to live in more precarious conditions in order to earn a living.

There are few independent studies available on the impact of the law. The Swedish government revised its policy in 2010 and found that street prostitution had been cut in half. “This reduction can be seen as a direct result of the criminalization of sexual purchases,” he said. Sex workers, however, say their services have simply moved indoors or have been made available in clandestine and precarious situations.

A 2015 report by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education found that the evidence for the desired effects of the legislation was “weak” and that the law had contributed to “unintended consequences”.

That same year, Jay Levy, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, published a 255-page book after years of research, claiming that “if Sweden has failed to meet its goal of eliminating (or even of clearly reducing) prostitution, it is in fact clear that there were negative material effects of Swedish abolitionism. ”

“Other countries will undoubtedly continue to look to Sweden when they draft or propose prostitution law and policy. They would do well, however, to learn the real lessons from the Swedish model. “

Cybele Lesperance walks in Paris
Cybele Lesperance and over 200 others have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights

Human rights violation?

Human rights group Amnesty International published a policy on sex work in 2016, stating that to protect the rights of sex workers, “it is necessary not only to repeal laws that criminalize the sale of sex. , but also to repeal those who buy sex with the consent of adults or the organization of sex work (such as the ban on renting premises for sex work) constitutes a criminal offense. ”

An offer to overturn the ban on buying sex was rejected by France’s highest constitutional court in 2019. But the case could be decided by the European Court of Human Rights, which is currently considering the case. case.

Lesperance is one of 260 people of various nationalities who have filed a complaint with the court. For her, the goal is simple. “We could ask for compensation, but what we are seeing is that this bill is a crime against sex workers,” she said.

“This type of policy is so bad that I want to make sure other European countries get the message that human rights are being violated with such a law. “

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