Yesterday, The Guardian reported that France was considering amending its prostitution laws, making it illegal to pay for sex. Only a handful of European countries have opted to criminalise the clients of sex workers. Sweden is the only EU Member State to have done so.
In 2010, an attempt by Labour MPs to introduce similar legislation was rejected. A further attempt to do so by Scottish MP Marlyn Glen also fell through. I am shocked that there has not been more support for these proposals. Whilst I am against legalising prostitution like countries such as Holland and Belgium have done, I totally support introducing legislation to criminalise clients who pay sex workers.
Were clients to be criminalised, there would be a dramatic decrease in the numbers of women being trafficked for the purpose of prostitution. According to the UN, some 80% of persons trafficked are trafficked for sexual exploitation. The European Commission estimates that 120,000 women and children are trafficked into Western Europe each year. The root cause of prostitution and trafficking is the male demand for women who can be bought and sexually exploited. Evidently without the demand, the supply would not be necessary and the market would be substantially reduced.
Another huge failure of the current system is the impact on the sex workers themselves. Where prostitutes are regarded as criminals, rather than victims, measures to combat prostitution can often do more harm than good. In the UK, the criminal justice system has long permitted the use of ASBOs for street-based prostitution. This is highly ineffective. Women who fail to comply with the terms of their ASBO (and this is most women) frequently end up with a short-term prison sentence. This is very demoralising for them and can destroy their self-esteem.
For the actor Philippe Caubère to claim that sex workers ‘take care of men who mostly live in sexual misery’ shows a gross misunderstanding of the issue. Prostitution is a form of male violence against women. Caubère’s words sum up the widely held belief that men are innocent victims of sexual desires and women exist to serve them. No man has ever died from lack of sex, and no man will if France reforms its prostitution laws. I just hope that it encourages the UK to do the same.