What Do Sex Workers Think About the French Prostitution Act?: A Study on the Impact of the Law

Le Bail, H., Giametta, C., Rassouw, N. (2018). What Do Sex Workers Think About the French Prostitution Act?: A Study on the Impact of the Law From 13 April 2016, Against the ‘Prostitution System’ in France, [Research Report] Médecins du Monde. pp.96 (2019) Available at: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02115877/document

Findings from Advocating Opportunity’s “END DEMAND LITERATURE – DESK REVIEW” (Compiled by: Emily Dunlap, Komal Hans, and Donna Hoffman with contributions from: Kate D’Adamo and Megan K. Mattimoe):

“Two years after the new legislation, the repressive aspect of the law, the criminalization of clients, has had the most impact on the lives of sex workers, reinforcing their marginalization, increasing violence and stigma, and exposing them to greater risks for their health.” (p. 7) (emphasis added).

“Although most sex workers have nevertheless continued their activity since the new law, their working conditions have severely deteriorated. Contrary to claims that the new law, by decreasing demand (clients), would also decrease supply (sex workers) interviews conducted with organizations show that there has been no decrease in the numbers of sex workers.” (p. 6) (emphasis added).

“The law has had a negative impact on their autonomy as workers, on the risks they may be willing to take, and on social stigma and financial hardship. Almost all sex workers and each of the organizations interviewed noted a shift in the power relationship between sex workers and their clients, as clients feel more entitled to impose their conditions (i.e. unprotected sexual practices, reduced prices, unwillingness to pay, etc.), seeing themselves as the ones taking the risk with regards to the law.” (p. 6) (emphasis added).

“62.9% of respondents in our quantitative survey said that their overall quality of life has deteriorated since April 2016 and 78.2% said that their earnings have decreased. Generally, the law has pushed sex workers to operate under more risky conditions with dangerous implications for their health.” (pp. 6-7) (emphasis added).

“Sex workers often reported episodes of intimidation by the police including being pressured to report clients and, if undocumented, threatened with deportation if they do not comply.” (p. 6).

“Many interviews highlighted a worrying decrease in condom use as well as increased difficulties continuing treatment for those who are HIV positive. Stress created by worsening working conditions causes various psychosomatic health issues from consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, to depression and suicidal thoughts.” (p. 7) (emphasis added)

“The results of the qualitative survey also reveal that cases of violence, of all kinds, have increased: insults in the street, physical violence, sexual violence, theft, and armed robbery in the workplace.” (p. 7) (emphasis added).

“For the purposes of this analysis interviews were conducted with 70 sex workers (a further 38 sex workers were consulted via focus groups and workshops). A further 24 interviews and focus groups were conducted with sex worker groups or other organizations working with sex workers across France. Two researchers (in political science and sociology) supervised the study and analyzed the results in close collaboration with 11 outreach organizations. Alongside this qualitative study, a quantitative survey was also conducted between January and February 2018 involving 583 sex workers the results of which were integrated into this report.” (p. 4).

“The main objective of this study is to assess the impact on sex workers’ living and working conditions of the act of law n. 2016-444 (adopted by France’s parliament on the 13th of April 2016 with the aim of reinforcing the fight against the prostitution system and supporting people in prostitution).” (p. 6).

“In France, prior to the criminalization of sex workers’ clients in 2016, sex workers were directly targeted by the criminalization of public soliciting, which had been reinforced by the 2003 Law for National Security (LSI). The legislation adopted in 2016, inspired by the Swedish legal framework, sought to end prostitution via criminalizing clients rather than sex workers.” (p. 6).

“Besides the criminalization of clients, the 2016 law also included the creation of an “exit-program” providing eligible sex workers access to financial aid, a temporary residence permit of six months (that can be renewed a maximum of three times) and the support of an accredited organization to access housing and employment. Despite the fact that the support provided by the exit-program is globally in line with the needs of sex workers who wish to change activity, organizations and sex workers are highly critical with regards to the exit-program’s implementation. The criteria for accessing the exit-program and the limitations of the support provided… prevent most people from applying and in particular those who are most in need of support.” (p. 7).