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Why France Is Adopting A New Law That Criminalizes The Clients, Not Prostitutes

ICE Graveyard 7/04/2016 Yaƫl Mellul
SEX WORKERS PROTEST © Marcos Brindicci / Reuters SEX WORKERS PROTEST

On April 6, 2016, France adopted a new law in the country's fight against prostitution, inspired by the so-called "Nordic Model" -- a model which seems to be frequently condemned, little understood and often mocked. We would, therefore, like to help clarify the ins and outs of this new law for you.
The French parliament, with its representatives elected directly through universal suffrage, had spent several years in parliamentary inquiry committees (the reports of which we invite you to read) and hearings in which all parties involved. This new law will place France in line both with its international commitments, and more importantly, in our opinion, with the 1981 law penalizing rape. In the 1981 law, rape is defined as "an act of sexual penetration, of any nature, committed upon the other person, with violence, coercion, threat or surprise." The National Assembly has come to the decision that sexual intercourse for money is, by its nature, an act of coercion. It is therefore suggested that prostitution constitutes violence, and that it makes sense for the culprit of these imposed sexual relations -- the client -- to be penalized.
This law, which was proposed by a socialist MP, reinforces the fight against prostitution. Under the law, the client would be fined. This law shows that parliament has listened to the voices of prostitutes who have testified to being victims of mental and physical trauma as a result of encountering multiple unwanted sexual penetrations per day. Such mental and physical traumas are now well-documented in trauma studies.

Common sense assumes that prostitution would be a harmless activity between consenting adults, when in fact, the opposite is true.

Parliament has recognized that people -- very often minors -- turn to prostitution based on their lack of choices or alternatives. A large number of them are also under direct pressure from a pimp or trafficking network.
Common sense assumes that prostitution would be a harmless activity between consenting adults, when in fact, the opposite is true. Poverty, marginalization and violence are growing amongst these young women who are looking to sell their bodies. Our elected officials have justly identified that the law that will prevail is not one that legalizes selling yourself, but a law that ensures that you would never be reduced to such a level in the first place.
Other members of parliament considered that the presence of money is irrefutable proof of the lack of free will of one of the parties involved. "Prostitution is, in reality, very simple. It's sex between two people -- between one person who wants it and one person who doesn't. And since the desire is absent, payment is there to replace it," they said.
This law stands for nothing less than to say that women are not goods to be sold or rented. In other words, it's all about human dignity.

These sex workers aren't in too much of a hurry to satisfy each and every one of their clients' desires. They are often offered up by pimps and human traffickers who offer the desired goods -- who cannot say no -- to the clients. Parliamentarians have seen the documented failure of attempts at regulating the sex trade. In fact, in countries where prostitution has been legalized and where pimps are considered to be ordinary entrepreneurs, female trafficking has exploded. Examples include Germany, Australia, Spain and the Netherlands. And for good reason: Once the demand has been normalized, nothing can stand in the way of the growth of the "market." The MPs have felt that we must not regulate the crime -- just as one does not regulate murder or slavery. We must give ourselves the means to fight it, even if we know that it will take some time to make the phenomenon disappear altogether. The criminalization of rape doesn't always stop rapists, unfortunately, but it allows the victims to be compensated.
The legislature has therefore taken into account the outrageous human and financial cost of prostitution, and has decided to combat it with the only viable method, which has been tried and tested since 1999: the "Swedish" or "Nordic Method." This method has succeeded at cutting back sexual exploitation everywhere it has been implemented. Swedish lawmakers have realized that the purchasers are both the source and a requirement for the prostitution system. The pimp really only exists to supply a demand. Without clients to purchase the prostitutes, there is no market, and therefore no need for pimping nor for human trafficking. It is unusual, therefore, for the pimps to be the only party penalized, as they are only second in the order of causality. The customers represent the main driving force behind the prostitution system and the violence that unfolds from it. They are directly responsible for the pimping and the human trade: The need for money constitutes a decisive coercion, even for those referred to as "volunteers."
Prostitution is ultimately a sexual act imposed on a person under pressure: The pressure of making money. It is an act of sexual violence, overwhelmingly perpetrated by men. All you have to do is read the comments that clients leave on online forums, where they evaluate the "merchandise," to observe the vocabulary they share with their fellow perpetrators. What the client really buys is the possibility to bypass consent, to do whatever he pleases in an asymmetrical relationship where the prostitute is completely at the mercy of purchaser. The prostitute needs such money to assure their survival or the survival of their family. Even worse, the money may be collected by a pimp or a trafficking ring.
This gives the client the opportunity to feign ignorance of the result of their actions. Every study done on clients demonstrates their knowledge of the behavior of rapists, and for good reason: prostitution is not only a form of rape, it's taxed rape.
Millions of women and young girls are trafficked every year for the simple pleasure of these men. It's about time to punish these men, even if just by implementing a simple fine as discussed in the new law.
The fundamental question in an egalitarian democracy is this: How can women become equal citizens to men, if we pay them a fraction of what men earn? The members of Parliament brought honor to France today by passing this law. The status quo was shameful for a nation that prides itself on freedom, equality and fraternity.
This law stands for nothing less than to say that women are not goods to be sold or rented. In other words, it's all about human dignity.
Therefore, it is with great enthusiasm that we revel in the passing of this new law, which will add to the legislative framework gender equality in France. And, it is with pride that we, the abolitionist feminists, have taken part in this anthropological rupture, which will lay the foundation for another world.
This post first appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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