France's new prostitution law is controversial, but the debate around sex work is improvingby Jessica Abrahams / April 7, 2016 / Leave a comment
Two years after the bill was first proposed, French legislators have finally passed a law making it legal to sell sex, but illegal to buy it. It replaces an older law under which prostitution was allowed but soliciting was not—the current situation in the UK.
The bill was lauded in some parts of the international media when it was first put forward for its attempt to protect sex workers themselves from criminalization. The onus was shifted onto the client. Similar laws have been passed in several other European countries. In recent years the gender-progressives Norway and Iceland have followed in the footsteps of Sweden, which introduced the model in 1999.
Since then, there has been much excitement about this model among some commentators and activists, along with attempts to export it abroad. Some see it as an improvement on the situation in most European countries, where prostitution is legal but related activities—soliciting, but also living off the earnings—are criminal offences, as it is often the sex workers who suffer from these regulations. It is also seen by some as a better option than total legalisation. This appears to have led to an increase in trafficking and a decrease in the welfare of prostitutes in some of the countries where it has been adopted, including the Netherlands, by increasing demand and allowing pimping and brothel-keeping (means of controlling sex workers) to flourish. The European Parliament has backed the Swedish model, and a version has been adopted in Northern Ireland (although the UK-wide laws still apply).