French prostitution policy: France symbolically reaffirms its commitment to abolitionism
On December 6th 2011, French deputies unanimously approved a non-binding motion reaffirming the country’s abolitionist position in matters of prostitution. The resolution had been put to the National Assembly in June by the members of the Parliamentary Information Commission on prostitution. Indeed, this resolution is the first step in a plan to institute a policy of criminalization of the purchase of sexual services (CPSS) that had been called for by the Commission at the outcome of its review of possible policy options.
Having traveled abroad and visited countries with a variety of prostitution policy regimes, the Commission had concluded that the Swedish model was the most successful and appropriate one to emulate. The members of the Commission jointly tabled the motion that the National Assembly “reaffirm France’s abolitionist position, the object of which is, in time, a society without prostitution […and] consider that, in light of the constraint that is most often the cause of entry into prostitution, of the violence inherent to this activity […], that prostitution cannot, in any case, be deemed a professional activity”.
The vote was largely symbolic: it serves to loudly and unequivocally restate the National Assembly’s commitment to the eradication of prostitution. The emblematic and foundational purpose of this vote and motion were made apparent by Guy Geoffroy, the Commission’s principal reporter, in an interview prior to the vote: “The resolution is the first step and we decided, symbolically, that as of the moment of the adoption of this resolution, adoption which is not in doubt, to deliver a legislative proposal this will pave the way to the responsibilization of the client, which will involve, if required, penalisation.” In this way the non-binding motion does not introduce any changes to existing measures aimed at prostitution. Instead, it serves to lay the foundations for the impending legislative proposal to punish clients of prostitution.
At the outset of the vote, what is clear is that there is an overwhelming consensus among French political actors that abolitionism is the only legitimate and acceptable position for the country to take in the matter of prostitution. What is less clear, however, is whether or not the same consensus will apply to the vote for the legislative bill which would make clients liable to a six-month prison sentence and a €3000 fine. One important aspect that remains to be hammered out, at the demand of certain left-wing factions, is whether or not the proposed criminalization of clients would be implemented in conjunction with, or in the place of, current repressive anti-soliciting measures enshrined in Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2003 Domestic Security Bill. In effect, this symbolic vote has simply been the overture to what will undoubtedly be a less consensual and more heated debate over whether or not, and how, to penalise those who purchase sexual services.
How, then, does Sweden fit into all of this? The debate, both inside the National Assembly, and outside on the streets, where opponents of CPSS were protesting, the discussion was peppered with references to “la Suède” and the “modèle Suédois”. Throughout this episode, proponents of the bill have made references to Sweden and its pioneering policy as a basis for galvanizing support with recurrent allusions to the official rates of success set out in Anna Skarhed’s 2010 official evaluation of the Swedish sex purchase ban report: a 50% decrease of street prostitution. Critics, such as sociologist and sex workers rights activist Françoise Gil, have also made frequent references to the Swedish ban, highlighting what they consider to be the negative side effects of the ban: increased isolation, violence and invisibility.
Nevertheless, despite the relative omnipresence of the Swedish model, the latest episode of French prostitution policy remains an exercise in national distinction. What stands out from the numerous declarations of support presented by the leaders of the different political groups during the vote are the expressions of national and republican pride at France’s perceived shift from passive follower to potential national trendsetter in this policy matter. Overall, this debate has been animated by a common sentiment but risks yet being undermined by conflicting views over the continued form of French prostitution policy. Whilst the political position of France regarding prostitution has been reiterated and clarified, whether or not the current abolitionist project will be successfully used as a platform to criminalize clients remains to be seen.
 The vote was undertaken as a symbolic gesture where all the leaders of the different political groups, which house the different political parties, spoke for the deputies they represent. All leaders of the groups expressed the support of their deputies.
 Proposition de Résolution réaffirmant la position abolitionniste de la France en matière de prostitution 9 June 2011 presented by Danielle Bousquet, Guy Geoffroy, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Christian Jacob, François Sauvadet, Yves Cochet and marie-Jo Zimmermann. Available at: http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/13/propositions/pion3522.asp [accessed 07/12/11]. See also: France’s newest import? Parliamentary Commission calls for “Swedish model” client criminalization
 Ibid. “Compte tenu de la contrainte qui est le plus souvent à l’origine de l’entrée dans la prostitution, de la violence inhérente à cette activité […], le prostitution ne saurait en aucun cas être assimilée à une activité professionelle”
 Guy Geoffroy (06/12/11) in an interview with TF1 available at: http://lci.tf1.fr/france/societe/abolir-ou-encadrer-la-prostitution-les-deputes-se-penchent-sur-6858911.html [accessed 06/12/2011]
 Jean-Paul Lecoq, communist deputy, speaking for the Gauche démocrate et républicaine (republican and democrat left) states that: “[…] we believe that the repressive measures put in place by Nicolas Sarkozy against the victims of prostitution should be removed.” In National Assembly Ordinary Session of December 6th 2011 available at: http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/13/cri/2011-2012/20120078.asp#P614_127814 [accessed 07/12/11]
 RFI (06/12/11) “Vers l’abolition de la prostitution en France?” http://www.rfi.fr/france/20111206-france-vers-abolition-prostitution [accessed 07/12/11]; 20Minutes (06/12/11) “Prostitution: “En Suède, ce système de pénalisation du client est inutile, inefficace et dangereux” http://www.20minutes.fr/societe/838256-prostitution-en-suede-systeme-penalisation-client-inutile-inefficace-dangereux [accessed 07/12/11]. See also: Evaluating the Swedish Ban on the Purchase of Sexual Services: The Anna Skarhed Report
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