Recently, France has made a move to change its laws on prostitution. From now on, those who are caught paying for sex will be subject to a fine, of around 1,500 euros. If you are caught re-offending, the fine will be even larger. France is the fifth country in the world to adopt such a law.
The bill was passed through the Assemblée Nationale, but before being officially adopted by the State, it will also be discussed in the Sénat, which won’t happen until June.
Many commentators in France have chosen to analyse this as a change in the way that the State looks at prostitutes. This law changes their status to victims, and those who pay for sex will from now on be seen as criminals. The French organization Osez le féminisme! called it a historic vote but underlined that it will continue to fight so that foreign prostitutes receive the right to stay in the country – thereby allowing them to work legally. It has also been said that this law will help to avoid the construction of mafia networks exploiting vulnerable members of society who turn to prostitution in order to earn a living. Many other organizations such as school associations and high-profile politicians have approved the notion of a law against paying for sex as it reinforces the notion that the human body is not for sale.
A December article in The Economist pointed out that in France around 90% of sex workers are of a foreign origin, in comparison with around 20% in 1990. There are also cases of women being trafficked from China, Romania, Bulgaria and Nigeria in order to then work as prostitutes. The minister at the head of this new bill, Najet Vallaud-Belkacem argues that the extremely unsavoury aspect of today’s prostitution rings calls for a much tougher stance from the State and a protection from psychological and physical abuse; as a result soliciting has been decriminalized.
This is a change from the 2003 law (called the ‘Sarkozy Law,) which Nicolas Sarkozy passed through when he was Interior Minister. This law prohibited what is known as ‘Passive Solicitation;’ being present in revealing clothes at places where prostitutes are known to work. When this law was still in place, 39.5% of those charged with passive solicitation between March 2003 and July 2004 were from Romania, Bulgaria or Albania, and 34.5% were from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. Only 15% were French. Between January 2003 and January 2004, 90% of Romanian women deported admitted to working as prostitutes. Therefore this law, by treating prostitution as an issue of public disorder, mostly caught in its web those who could not afford not to work on the streets – in a maison close, and those who were victims of international sex trafficking.
The overturning of this law in March of this year was, according to the French government, one of the first steps to decriminalizing the prostitute, and criminalizing the buyer. However, France remains an ‘abolitionist’ country; that is to say a country that aims at eradicating the practice of prostitution entirely.
Nevertheless, there has not been unanimous approval for the bill. Opponents have highlighted the hypocrisy of decriminalizing solicitation, yet penalising those who accept approaches from prostitutes.
The organization Aides, which fights against the spread of HIV AIDS was quoted in Libération as saying that the bill was ’inapplicable et dangereux,’ (inapplicable and dangerous) (Libération 4.12.13). One can assume that this is because criminalising buying sex will make it more of an underground activity than it already is, and won’t help to encourage safe measures whilst engaging in sexual activities. Jean-François Corty, director of Médicins du Monde, has also gone on record as saying that this bill will have a ‘counter-productive effect,’ (Libération 4.12.13) because it will make prostitution an even more clandestine activity, meaning that the work that they carry out with prostitutes will become more difficult. Some members of the UMP have also criticized the fact that the bill also proposes that those who wish to stop working in the sex industry be given temporary financial aid and permission to stay in France for six months, claiming that this will open the door to a mass of illegal immigration for those who see this social aid as an attractive prospect.
It is not only aid and charity workers that have opposed or criticized the bill. There have been sex workers demonstrating in Paris against the bill and what they see as an attempt to criminalize their profession and compromise their ability to earn a living. A powerful slogan that was brandished at a demonstration outside the Assemblée Nationale was ‘You sleep with us, you vote against us!’
(Picture appeared in The Economist, 7.12.13. The slogan says ‘Whores without clients are looking for a governmental position.’)
The fact that there were demonstrations in Paris against the new bill encourages us to look at the history of prostitution in France. One only has to visit a museum to trace the cultural representation of prostitution throughout the ages. Brassaï, amongst others (Ingres, Manet, Degas, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec) have represented Prostitution in their art. In the Impressionist era, it formed part of their desire to represent life truthfully as they saw it, to glorify the banal aspects of everyday life, prostitution therefore playing an important part.
(Toulouse-Lautrec, At Rue des Moulins, 1894)
A popular refrain associates French culture with liberal cultural morals, and the religiously influenced notion that prostitutes were victims who required salvation. In the late 19th century, William Acton, a student of prostitution who campaigned for its regulation in London, published a survey of prostitution and compared it to systems elsewhere, including in Paris. He produced a comprehensive description of the regulation of prostitution in Paris, elucidating how, once attempts had been made to dissuade women from prostitution, various laws were enforced to ensure discretion. They had to dress discreetly, could only work between certain hours, could only work in certain areas of Paris, and were not allowed to practice their profession if found to be ‘diseased.’ This meant that registered prostitutes were subject to regular medical examinations. Acton finishes his analysis by lamenting the fact that despite the fact that there are ‘clandestine prostitutes,’ prostitution is not ‘thrown on people,’ as is the case in London.
Back to the modern day, and a recent article in The Guardian wonders whether Britain risks becoming a haven for sex workers and those who pay money for sex because its laws are becoming more and more out of step with those in the rest of Europe. If France adopts this bill, it will be conforming to the ‘Nordic method,’ where the State protects the sex worker, not the purchaser. In the UK, buying sex is not illegal, but soliciting and running a brothel, for example, are. What is more, the government does not intend to review the laws on prostitution at any near time in the future. However, despite this, Najat Vallaud Belkacem is rumoured to be meeting with Theresa May in the near future to discuss the law, citing the work of the English 19th century feminist Josephine Butler (who campaigned internationally for an improvement of the welfare of prostitutes – including in France), as an example in which the countries can cooperate.
This article originally appeared on Just A Platform: http://www.justaplatform.com/prostitution-france-new-laws-to-be-introduced/
- French MPs vote to impose fines on prostitutes’ customers (theguardian.com)
- French could decriminalize prostitutes, fine clients (o.canada.com)
- Protests as the French Assembly debates bill to penalize clients of prostitutes (foxnews.com)
Le Monde reported on Friday that Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President of France, and head of the UMP, is planning a return to politics so that he can enter the race for the UMP presidential candidate in 2017, when the next national elections will take place in France.
Citing several sources close to the former President, it unequivocally states that those who are close to Sarkozy have no doubt that he intends to present himself as a candidate. This conviction is strengthened by the fact that Sarkozy has sanctioned a recent documentary about himself, in which his private life features heavily. The subject of the documentary is his private life during the last presidential campaign. It’s a soppy documentary, a portrait of an idyllic lifestyle, a happy marriage, and a calm, strong President. Intituled ‘Sarkozy Intime,’ which could be roughly translated as ‘Intimate Sarkozy,’ it is supposed to show Sarkozy in the Gaullist role of a strong executive, never impatient, a loving father and husband, and a capable leader.
The French website Rue 89 published an article on the documentary in which it heavily implies that it was successful (more than 1.5 million viewers), precisely because it evoked or suggested absolutely nothing new. Ironically, seeing as Sarkozy is above all a politician, nothing was said about politics, no analysis was made of the successes and failures of the presidential campaign, or the real political convictions of Nicolas Sarkozy. It played on our modern day tendency to be unable to resist the opportunity to voyeuristically gaze into the intimate life of a couple that we constantly see in the newspapers but actually know nothing about.
It tried to convince us that this political couple had generously opened the doors to its private life, warmly inviting us in, as equals. Yet, being the cunning politician that he is, without doubt Sarkozy calculated that he could use this documentary as one way among many to bring himself back, slowly but surely, into the public eye, without actually revealing anything important about himself (what he really thinks about politics, ideas, government), yet convincing us that we’ve learnt a lot about him, by exploiting our weak curiosity for celebrity culture.
It’s blatantly obvious that the Right-Wing supporters of Sarkozy have used this documentary as an opportunity to nostalgically reminisce about what a great man and leader Sarkozy was, and indeed still is. Some of the quotes from them are almost ridiculous. ‘Un beau moment de vérité,’ (A beautiful moment of truth). A tweet, from Sebastien Huyghe, an UMP MP; ‘…Un homme d’Etat qui donne tout, grand dans la défaite comme il l’avait été dans la victoire.’ (A statesman who gives everything, as impressive in defeat as previously in victory.)
According to Nicolas Bordas, a former advisor to François Hollande during his presidential campaign, if Hollande were to commission the same type of documentary about his personal life, his popularity levels wouldn’t be so low. Yet this seems to me to be a tricky question. First of all, as Rue 89 points out, Hollande may not be so lucky as to find a sympathetic filmmaker willing to film all the cute and touching moments of his personal life (which is essentially what this documentary on Sarkozy seems to consist of), and also willing not to ask any tricky questions. Secondly, this seems not to be having very high expectations about what the French people ask for from their President.
In the UK, we largely mock David Cameron when he reveals intimate details about his private life. I’m specifically thinking about when Downing Street released pictures of Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama in the Cameron’s flat in number 10, where their impeccably neat and expensive kitchen and living room were revealed to the public. The Daily Mail released an informative article detailing every aspect of the kitchen and revealing the price of every item. And who could forget those cringe making photos of Ed Miliband and his wife, Justine Thornton, at the most recent Labour conference, where Ed looks extremely uncomfortable as his wife leans in to kiss him on the cheek in their hotel room.
Is it not slightly insulting the intelligence of the electorate to assume that a fly on the walls documentary with tender domestic scenes between Francois Hollande and his family and partner would reassure the public as to his capability for office? Why should it be that when a male politician wants to engage with the public, show he has ‘feelings,’ he inevitably trots out his family because this is meant to reassure us that anyone who has children and a wife is not a ‘bad’ person, and that we should therefore vote for them. Many, many examples have proved this shaky hypothesis wrong. In both the above cited cases in Britain, the wives of Miliband and Cameron have been put on show as if they were a possession adding to value of these men. This alone is distasteful, regardless of the fact that bringing out the family is a blindingly obvious political technique with which we are familiar.
Moreover, the release of this documentary has surely been carefully timed. Sarkozy, no longer in power or therefore at the mercy of weekly opinion polls, can afford to show off this side of his personality; calm, resolute, yet supposedly tender and loving. He can do this precisely because this is the opposite of Hollande’s public image in France at the moment. He is portrayed in the media as ineffectual, weak, and unable to pass through reforms on which he was elected. This documentary seems to be targeted at contrasting the two men, to the detriment of Hollande. Although we see straight through the documentary, its glossy sheen cannot fail to fascinate, perhaps?
A relationship reminiscent of that between Rebekah Brookes and David Cameron has come to light between Nicolas Sarkozy and Christine Lagarde, former French finance minister and current head of the IMF. Lagarde, who has been investigated in relation to the Tapie affair, which is gripping France, had her Parisian home searched during the course of the investigation, revealing a note which she wrote to Sarkozy, in the form of a letter of allegiance and loyalty.
The letter goes:
Dear Nicolas, very briefly and respectfully.
1) I am at your side in order to serve you and your projects for France
2) I have done my best and this means I have on occasion failed. I ask your forgiveness.
3) I don’t have any personal political ambitions; neither do I wish to become an ambitious lackey like a number of your entourage whose loyalty is on occasion recent and sometimes short lived.
4) Use me for as long as you wish and for as long as it suits your actions and your cabinet.
5) If you use me, I need you as a guide and also for support: without a guide, I risk being inefficient, without support, I risk being non credible.
With my immense admiration, Christine L.
This seemingly close relationship fuels rumours that Lagarde’s actions in 2007, when she intervened in the long running dispute between Credit Lyonnais and Bernard Tapie over the sale of Adidas in 1993, were at the command of the Elysée. Tapie was the former head of the Adidas, and claimed he had been cheated of millions by the sale, managed by Credit Lynonnais. Lagarde ordered a special panel of judges to arbitrate the argument, and they eventually ruled that Tapie was owed about 285 million euros in damages.
This out-of-court conclusion drew outrage from many sections of French society. Many looked on in disbelief as the state used the tax payer’s money to pay off a private beneficiary. Lagarde was especially criticised by the Socialist party, but she pithily reminded them that the whole affair had begun under Mitterrand’s presidency. Lagarde, when convoked to appear before court, seemed outwardly serene, telling Le Figaro that she was as calm as ever, confident that she had only ever acted in ‘the public interest.’ As yet she has not been charged, but instead has been named as a witness.
It seems that Lagarde’s testimony, given in May of this year, may have led to Stéphane Richard, CEO of the global telecoms group Orange, being added to the ever-growing melee of names associated with the affair. He led her ministry during her time in office, before joining Orange. Consequently, it was he who first brought to Lagarde’s attention, according to her testimony, the possible solution of a private arbitrage to end the affair, and to which he appeared ‘very favourable.’ Even more incriminating for Richard, the fact that Lagarde denies actually signing a letter which appears to have her signature on it, in which instructions are given as to how an eventual arbitrage should be carried out. Yet the letter was signed during her absence from Paris, at the same time as the annual meeting of the FMI, to which she participated in her role as French finance minister. Lagarde speculates that the letter was signed unbeknownst to her, with the use of a signature stamp, which can only be used with express permission. This she denies giving, making Richard’s defence against accusations of frauds seem weak at best, especially given as he was her second-in-command. However, news broke only a few hours ago that despite the fact that he is under investigation, Orange’s board of directors have given him their full vote of confidence, and he will remain on as CEO. This is after François Hollande clearly signed his support for Richard. Notably Orange was acquired by France Telecom in 2000, of which the State holds a 13.5% share.
Nevertheless, more and more rumours have emerged about the friendship between Sarkozy and Tapie. Recently, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MEP for the environmentalist party in France, Europe Ecologie Les Verts, affirmed his belief that Lagarde’s decision was effectively taken by Sarkozy, the very same year that he came to power. This claim was repeated by Segolène Royal. Currently in France the headlines are being dominated by interrogations as to whether the supposedly neutral and unbiased arbitrage of the affair was in fact not partisan, leading to Tapie’s enormous payout, and, it must be speculated, close alliance with the UMP. He had, after all, undergone a political volte-face, known in the nineties for being a sympathiser of the left.
Along with the on-going Bettancourt affair, the new evidence brought to light during the course of the investigation implicate Sarkozy deeper and deeper into affairs of political corruption and fraud. While President, diplomatic immunity meant he could not be prosecuted, but whether he actually could undertake a return to politics once these investigations have come to an end remains to be seen.