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French lawmakers reconsider outlawing prostitution

Reuters/Charles Platiau

The French parliament has revived the debate over prostitution, debating on Tuesday a resolution drafted by a cross-party commission that re-iterates France’s opposition to prostitution. It would pave the way for a law that would penalise clients.

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While some feminist groups welcome the idea of punishing people who pay for sex, members of Strass, the French sex workers’ union, say criminalising prostitution would just push it further underground.

At a rally in Paris on Tuesday to protest the resolution in front of the National assembly, many sex workers wore white masks to conceal their identities, but 24-year-old Christopher Menechez is open about his profession.

"I do this to have money. And I prefer to do this and earn in three days the amount that a McDonald’s worker makes in one month," he explained."I don’t destroy my body, I’m not traumatized, and I earn money. What can I ask more?"

An estimated 20,000 people work as prostitutes in France, which is not illegal, although solicitation is. And there are strict laws against pimping, which means even landlords who rent apartments to prostitutes risk being prosecuted.

Some feminist groups who have been pushing for an abolition of prostitution, say it is to help exploited women. Menechez disagrees that all prostitutes are exploited

"Various people are exploited; there will always be exploited people in prostitution," he says. "We fight against this, but I am not exploited,and all people here are not exploited, we do prostitution of ourselves. It’s our work and we are proud of this."

The resolution says that "the idea of un-repressable sexual urges is an archaic concept of sexuality which should not legitimate prostitution, any more than it justifies rape".

Menechez and other sex workers are worried that this resolution is a first step towards France outlawing prostitution. This is something Claire Quidet of the anti-prostitution group Le Mouvement du Nid hopes will happen. She says it sets the tone for the French society should approach sex.

"We think that prostitution is a form of violence, because when you buy sex, you impose it on someone who doesn’t want it," she told RFI. "The person wants the money, but doesn’t want the sex, and we think there is no freedom in that relationship."

She would like French lawmakers to take a strong stance against prostitution.

"What we hope that some deputieis will work on a law that will criminalise sex buyers, but also provide solutions ot help people to exit prostitution," she said.

The issue of prostitution in France has been thrown into the spotlight recently with widespread media coverage of the case of eight people in Lille charged with operating a ring that provided sex workers to clients including, allegedly, former IMF chief, Dominque Strauss-Kahn.

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