Essay 10: France Goes Swedish

In April 2016 the French Parliament enacted into law a new prostitution ordinance that, among other things, banned the purchase of sex. France went Swedish.

The French National Assembly voted in 2013 for a package of proposals to “fight the prostitution system,” a package that included the sex purchase ban. However, the French Senate, when it considered the package, stripped out this provision. For two years the Assembly and Senate remained at odds. A Joint Committee formed to work out a resolution reported in November 2015 that it could not reach accord.[1] Under the French Constitution, if the Assembly and Senate cannot resolve their differences, the Assembly gets its way. Consequently, on April 6, 2016, the Assembly reconfirmed its support for the new prostitution legislation.

The Assembly’s initial approval drew upon a 2011 report of a specially-created fact-finding Commission. The impetus for the French parliament’s concern about prostitution derived in large measure from a single phenomenon: prostitutes in France are overwhelmingly étrangers – women from Eastern Europe, Nigeria, China, Brazil, and elsewhere. Government reports have continually drawn a contrast between the “traditional” French prostitution of the past and the prostitution of the present. Not unexpectedly, the fact-finding Commission began from this point as well, depicting these étrangers as trafficked to France. According to the Commission, Eastern European networks “tend to use physical force and psychological violence to force migrants into prostitution.” Girls are confined to “training centers” where they are deprived of food, physically abused, and gang-raped. Once “psychologically broken” they are sent into France to prostitute.[2] Women from countries in Asia, Africa, and South America find their way to France heavily indebted to the traffickers who arrange their passage, and these “[v]ictims of trafficking are almost always forced into prostitution to pay their debts.”[3] Their earnings are kept from them “and this keeps them in a state of prostitution.”[4] They not only owe their traffickers but the local pimps who “bought” them.[5]

If this is the condition of most prostitutes in France, then obviously urgent measures are needed. International agreements and French domestic law require action against trafficking. The important questions are: What kind of action? Are all or most prostitutes trafficked?

The fact-finding Commission framed its proposed measures by reference to a long tradition of French “abolitionism.” Originally, abolitionism in France meant the movement after World War II to abolish brothels and their legal regulation: “Abolitionism can be defined as a doctrine to abolish any form of regulation of prostitution so as not to encourage it by any legal recognition.” Over time France went further, creating a legal order actively hindering prostitution by making everything associated with it a criminal offense: pimping, brothel-keeping, soliciting, and the like. Although prostitution itself is nominally tolerated, “in fact, [it] . . . is legally rendered difficult by the criminal law.” Prostitutes can’t ply their trade in hotels; they can’t mutually assist one another; they can’t pay helpers; and they risk being evicted from their apartments if they service customers there.[6] Civil law does them no favor either, since courts will not enforce prostitution contracts.[7]

The 2011 Commission made clear by repeated declarations that French abolitionism considers prostitutes to be victims. In this it is joined by all French abolitionist parliamentarians, officials, and associations.[8] This coalition aims for a policy to deter individuals from entering prostitution; to help those already in it to get out; and to suppress “sexual exploitation” by penalizing all who abet it.[9]

The Commission report provides examples demonstrating the wretched conditions of trafficked women. For example, it reports the story of Adriana,

who left Albania in love at the age of 16 to follow an older man, who then forced her into prostitution once she was in France, threatening to attack her little sister back home [unless Adriana cooperated]: “there he began the threats. He said he would do anything to my little sister. It was an unbearable idea.”[10]

Another case involved a

Lebanese network . . . which organized in Beirut a false beauty contest from which it collected photographs of young women in swimsuits. It sent these photos to wealthy customers in Europe who reserved particular young woman over the Internet, paying almost 30,000 a head. The women were lured to the south of France and Ibiza. Then at night, they were forced by surprise into prostitution.[11]

In one case, a

[t]rafficked Nigerian woman . . . interviewed by the Amicale du Nid de Paris, testified to the seriousness of the violence [experienced by prostitutes]: as she had never had sex, she was tied up and raped for 17 years. Eight times, [she] became pregnant as a result of relationships with customers who refused to wear a condom. Her pimps, each time, forced her to abort by kicking her in the stomach. Constantly monitored, she has not had a minute to herself between 2000 and 2007.[12]

Another Nigerian young woman testified that

[a]rriving in France at the age of 17 through a network without knowing its real purpose, [she] was threatened with a knife, raped, and forced to work as prostitute. She reported that it was impossible to quit prostitution and run away because she had been so indoctrinated by her pimps. She was not even allowed to approach support associations on the ground that doing so would cast the “evil eye” on her entire community.[13]

In the face of these reports it was easy for the Commission to credit the assertion by a representative of Mouvement du Nid, founded in 1937 as a Catholic outreach center for prostitutes, that

it had collected numerous testimonies and life stories to suggest that prostitution is always a violence, even if it is sometimes claimed otherwise.[14]


Ubiquitous violence. Pervasive trafficking. Debt bondage. Literal enslavement. This is the picture the abolitionist coalition in the National Assembly extracted from the 2011 Commission report; and the coalition crafted a legislative response accordingly: a bill (i) providing for the government to force ISPs to block websites that advertised escort services, (ii) calling for anti-prostitution education in the schools, (iii) funding associations to implement “exit paths” for prostitutes, (iv) repealing the law against soliciting (used against prostitutes), and (v) banning the purchase of sex. The last provision puts France in harness with Sweden, and this was no accident. The abolitionist coalition drew inspiration from, and relied upon, the “successful” Swedish model. French offenders[15] will now have to pay a fine of €1,500 (about $1,700) for a commercial sexual tryst – if they get caught.

Considering the picture animating it, this legislation seems a rather toothless attack on extraordinary evils, although the abolitionist parliamentarians thought it revolutionary.[16] The 2011 Commission report promised that “[p]enalizing customers would remove a large part of the trafficking networks from France.”[17] Maud Olivier, speaking for the Assembly’s Delegation on Women’s Rights, insisted that “this measure is the most effective to date to deter trafficking networks and procurers from expanding in our country.”[18] It is hard, at first impression, to see how this could be so. As it is, France has long had in place extremely repressive laws against procuring. Conviction can lead to long prison sentences. French police have special units dedicated to its suppression. France also has a very punitive law against trafficking. How, then, would a slap on the hands of prostitute clients add to the disincentives that pimps and traffickers already face? One parliamentarian argued that as a consequence of the ban “there will be fewer customers, there will be less prostitution and therefore less human trafficking.”[19] Why would fewer customers effect this magic? Why wouldn’t it just as likely make pitiless traffickers and pimps demand their “girls” work longer hours at lower prices to compensate for a fall-off in demand?

Indeed, surveying the array of French laws directed at hotels, landlords, cooperating prostitutes, and other institutions and individuals that facilitate or benefit in any way from prostitution, the 2011 Commission report noted that “[t]he repressive arsenal seems particularly full.”[20] Indeed! Adding the sex purchase ban to this arsenal will have all the force of adding a pea-shooter to an array of artillery. One dissenting Assembly deputy referred to the sex purchase ban as “pure symbol.”[21] Even so, the symbolism was important to abolitionists.[22]

But symbolism at what cost? In 2003, the French parliament approved an anti-soliciting law enabling police to arrest prostitutes. The upshot was the dispersal of streetwalkers to remoter suburbs of cities, where they were more isolated and exposed to danger. More importantly their remoteness hampered health services and prostitute support associations from maintaining contact with them, leaving streetwalkers further at risk of disease, injury, ignorance about their rights, and the like. Almost all members of the French Assembly favored revoking the anti-soliciting law; almost all agreed with comments by Minister of Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: the law had “created avoidance strategies by prostitutes that were very damaging to their health and the public health.”[23]

During hearings on the new legislation many of the most important French associations cautioned the Assembly that the sex purchase ban could produce similar bad effects. Franceline Lepany, president of Les Amis du Bus des Femmes, worried that “the criminalization of the client will only increase the stigmatization of prostitutes.”[24] Tim Leicester, coordinator of du Lotus Bus à Paris, another NGO directed at helping Chinese prostitutes, warned that “prostitutes will be induced [by the sex purchase ban] to become even more invisible, which is a risk factor; if they cannot get in touch with clients on the street, they will be forced to resort to intermediaries, who will do it for them through the internet, and organize their appointments.”[25]

The 2011 Commission Report had already laid down a marker: “the aim of public policy can only be a world without prostitution,” it declared, but “this ambitious objective must not result in harm to prostitutes.”[26] Marisol Touraine, the French Minister for Health and Social Affairs, in her testimony before the National Assembly, tried to dampen some of the abolitionist enthusiasm for the sex purchase ban:

[W]e cannot ignore the questions and concerns raised by a number of NGOs. Prompting people in prostitution to hide in the shadows – doesn’t that cause them risks in terms of health? Doesn’t it make more difficult their follow-up by the public authorities and associations? It should not be the case that eradication of part of prostitution increases harm to those that stay in.[27]

The French National Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) expressed similar reservations:

[C]oncerning the widespread criminalization of prostitution clients, CNCDH believes that this measure may be counter-productive because it could include further isolation of victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. . . . the arguments against the measure outweigh the arguments supporting it despite the pedagogical and educational value that such a measure would have.[28]

The Minister of Women’s Rights at the time, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in her testimony to the National Assembly tried to meet this criticism:

Some people worry, indeed, that by punishing the customers, we drive prostitutes away from city centers. But if the prostitutes are not liable to prosecution anymore, they will feel more safe in city centers, which will not be the case for customers, and this is the good result we look for: that customers feel insecure and thus are less numerous. The important thing is that prostitutes feel safe and legitimate in town. This is a bet that we make. If the sex purchase ban has short-term problematic effects, the creation of [a special ] fund will allow associations to intervene more with the prostitutes. What we want is that in the medium and long-term, this new policy makes prostitution recede.[29]

This is neither a coherent nor robust assurance that all will be well. Freed from the threat of solicitation arrests, prostitutes will come back to the city centers — even though their customers are not there (“the customers won’t feel secure there”)? If we assume prostitutes go where the customers are, then this response makes no sense. Anyway, Vallaud-Belkacem goes on, if the sex purchase ban does create “problematic effects” in the short-term, the NGOs that aid prostitutes can “intervene.” Intervene to do what? And how can they intervene, since their complaint is that, as prostitutes move more into the shadows, the NGOs can’t find them – to “intervene” or otherwise?


I said above that the new law seems a relatively lame response if scores of thousands of women in France are daily brutalized, assaulted, held captive, enslaved — if nearly all the prostitutes in France are trafficked. But what exactly is the situation in France?

In 2012, the Inspector-General for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs issued its own lengthy study of prostitution. It presented a tempered and complex portrait, emphasizing that knowledge of prostitution is very limited. What researchers know they know from police and association reports about street prostitution and street prostitution is hardly representative of the whole. This lack of data, it warned, undermines the efforts of public authorities to devise appropriate policies and fuels highly charged, ideological positions on prostitution.[30] There was no one prostitution, it insisted, but many prostitutions, and this fact had to be kept in mind.[31]

Certainly a great many prostitutes in France come from elsewhere and the Inspector-General’s report characterized their situation this way:

[These] women prostitute themselves as part of family or mafia networks or to repay smuggling networks. They work to pay off their debts and many, once they reach their financial targets, return home (this is particularly true of the Chinese); or they may remain in prostitution for the long-term. Women from Eastern Europe make frequent trips back to their home countries.[32]

The Report offered some illustrative profiles. It is worth recounting them.

C is Romanian. She first performed prostitution in a “club” in Spain before coming to work on the street in France. Speaking French very well, she says that she prostitutes for economic reasons, since her nationality does not qualify her for a work permit in France to obtain a “normal job.” C has two doctors: one in the city, which knows her as a housekeeper, and the other a community health organization, from which she seeks aid related to her prostitution.

M, aged thirty years, is an “escort.” She began first in bars. Today she recruits her customers over the Internet. Carefully selected, many are “regulars.” With some she has more than a commercial relationship, verging on friendship. That is why she sometimes foregoes condom use with them. M works, while her children are at school, in an apartment rented for that purpose. She earns enough to allow her to work part-time.

J, a twenty year-old Nigerian, worked in prostitution to pay €60,000, the price of her transport to France with false papers. Threatened by her pimp, and seeing her debt never diminishing, J left the street with the aid an association that fights against trafficking. Driven by anger against those who exploited her, J has no regrets but lives in fear of reprisals against her family back home. She is engaged in a process of reintegration, beginning with courses in French, which she already speaks very well. But the regularization procedure, which should be the counterpart of her cooperation with the police, faces a difficult challenge in getting her a passport.

R is a transexual from Latin America. When we met her, she had a very bad bruise on her face poorly concealed by make-up. She said she was beaten by a client who wanted a return of his money for a service she had not been able to complete. This created a lively discussion between a social worker and a community health representative, one lamenting the disproportionate nature of the risks R takes for so little money, the other, herself a transsexual out of prostitution, avowing that as matter of principle R must be respected.

S is a dapper fifty. For years she has worked out of a van serving a clientele of “regulars.” Prostitution serves her preferences: “I love sex and money.” She earns a comfortable living and each year takes a long holiday in the sun. She pays her taxes and contributes to social security. But her children do not know her real job. She boasts of a social role with her clients, and advises young foreigners arriving without any training in prostitution how the market works. When asked why she did not choose a more comfortable “indoor” mode, she replied that it seemed to her more dangerous, and prefers the van which allows her visually to select customers.

R is from Cameroon. She has a part-time job as a cleaning-woman and prostitutes on the streets to supplement her income. For her, prostitution is “what feeds me, feeds my children, and cares for my father back home.” She refuses to label herself a prostitute: “I am a maid.” She laughs a lot and mocks her ridiculous customers.[33]

Only two out of the six cases described here fit the abolitionist story of trafficked prostitutes living in debt-bondage and subject to continual violence. But we need not rely on this Report’s vignettes alone. As it turns out, the 2011 fact-finding Commission itself described a number of cases at variance with the flattened-out, one-dimensional image of prostitution that dominated debate in the National Assembly.

Lucy left work to return to university and began escorting, according to her own words, as a response to material need and love distress. Indeed, she suffered a big disappointment in love, then tried without satisfaction short-lived affairs, before moving to fee-based relationships.[34]

Anne-Sophie began to prostitute occasionally at the end of November 2006. This practice directly contradicted the education instilled by her parents. She was determined to break from her “strict and stifling education” . . . . [I]n prostitution, Anne-Sophie confronts and flouts her family morality.[35]

Perle is 45, a native of northern China. She [has been] in France three and a half years . . . . Divorced for thirteen years, she has a son, 18, who lives with her. She was fired eight years ago, while working in a factory [in China] making surgical instruments . . . . [She] came with four other people by paying the sum of 50,000 Swiss francs (€ 7,600) to smugglers for travel and tourist visas. She borrowed the money from her family which she repaid in two years. Arriving in France, she was hired . . . as a “nurse” by a Chinese family. Paid 3,000 francs (€ 450) a month, she worked every day, all day, with only two days off a month. She ate at restaurants and paid 700 francs (€100) per month for a bed in an apartment belonging to a family from southern China, in which she slept with five others, including two men. Having paid her debt after two years, she stopped working as a “nurse.” Focusing on the future of her son, she works as a prostitute, never again to be exploited by an employer, earning money to finance her son’s studies.[36]

[Consider] the testimony of Sandrine . . . . This young woman chose to study architecture in a large school. Her parents possessed little financial means because of prolonged unemployment. . . . She does not want to be financially dependent on them, the more so since another family member has already solicited financial assistance [from them]. The scholarship she receives does not allow her to meet her needs. Recipient of a level 1, she gets 1, 200 per year only. She made a choice in schools – she could have gone to an inexpensive university near the city where her parents live – so she prostitutes in order not to weigh on her parents financially.[37]

[There is] the case of some Chinese female prostitutes in Paris. They migrate and sometimes resort to prostitution to pay for medical care of relatives or for their child’s studies. Madame Z: “Aged 47, she comes from Liaoning and has a son who is studying computer science. He is in his last year of college and studying in China costs €10,000 per year. Madame Z. came to France and took many odd jobs such as childcare or tending to the elderly in their homes [before turning to prostitution]. She also has a sick mother in China who needs eye surgery but the operation is very expensive. . . . All the little money she can save is sent to her family.”[38]

I conclude with two more cases more in line with abolitionist beliefs.

Raïssa, a young Albanian, forcibly married to a violent man, decided to leave her country: “One day . . . I ran away . . . . I met a man in his thirties who was with a girlfriend. A normal man. Finally, I thought. He said that in the West, I could have a better life and a good job . . . . On arrival [in Paris], I called. I had a girl who gave me an appointment at Porte d’Orléans . . . . She gave me clothing, condoms, and in the afternoon she took me with her to the Porte d’Auteuil. I did not have a euro, I did not speak a word of French, and I did not know Paris. I knew nothing. When she told me to accompany her, at first I did not understand. It was after arriving at the Porte d’Auteuil that I understood what she was going on. There was an Albanian and Russian. I stood on the sidewalk until 9 pm. At night, she took all my money.”[39]

A young Belgian woman: “She left school and, at the age of seventeen, about four years ago, took up with her fiance. The boy asked her to prostitute herself and this situation lasted as long as they remained in Belgium and then in France, where she was expelled. She managed to make it back to Paris and to prostitution until she was able to separate from him. She tells the story with great emotional strength and rage against her ex-fiance.”[40]

Now, indulge me in a very crude calculation. I culled 18 cases from the two reports. Eight of them fit in the mold of prostitution according to abolitionist orthodoxy; ten do not. What are we to make of that?

How much trafficking? That is the central question. Marisol Touraine, Minister of Health and Social Affairs, in testimony to the National Assembly, declared that “we can no longer differentiate between prostitution and human trafficking since 90% of prostitutes are of foreign origin.”[41] This contention seems obviously to elide the difference between immigration (legal or illegal) and trafficking. The problem with collapsing them together this way is brought out by the following exchange between an Assembly deputy, Guy Geoffroy (who helped prepare the 2011 Commission report and served as “president” of the Assembly committee conducting hearings for the new legislation) and two representatives of prostitute assistance associations.

Mr. President Guy Geoffroy: No one has answered the question . . . on what to do to protect the victims of human trafficking. One of you spoke about migration. [T]he formula is extraordinary: traffickers look for people where they live, take their families hostage, make the women travel [to France], and in the end double the victim’s debt. What alternative solutions do you propose to better fight this trafficking in human beings? Because it is this that results in victims like the young Chinese migrants in our country being subjected to dramatically bad living conditions. If we reject the use of legal means to approach prostitutes and clients and we reject any intervention by the police and gendarmes, how does one go beyond declarations of principle and fight on the ground the trafficking in human beings? Could you give proposals allowing us to move forward on this?

France Arnould, Director of Les Amis du Bus des Femmes: Mr. Chairman, something bothers me in your words. Not all immigrants engaged in prostitution are victims of human trafficking. Do not mix them together.

Irène Aboudaram, coordinator of the NGO, du Funambus à Nantes:  In Nantes, where we have worked with prostitutes since 2000, we saw the change in their profile, especially with the arrival of women from Nigeria. If, under the law, women are indeed trafficked in the sense that they are helped to cross borders and provided accommodation, I would qualify your remarks, Mr. Chairman. Even if it strikes you in a negative way, a migration route may reflect a choice, the choice of living in Europe, in a country with better prospects than Nigeria.

There are a multitude of routes. Some women are promised childcare jobs or work in catering, and promised legal papers as well, and they are completely victims of trafficking. But others have freely decided to contract a high debt to come to France; they know what they are facing even if it is likely that they did not measure fully the implications of their choice. Once in France, some fail to adjust to work on the street: they suffer from the cold, from the hiding, from fear of the police, from discrimination, and from lack of access to care. These women need help to get out and your bill will perhaps bring them some answers. Others, however, put up with the situation because they are committed to their project of immigrating to Europe. This is neither a judgment nor ideology, but a field observation.[42]

However, it is a matter of ideology among the abolitionists that this distinction is not to be countenanced. “Prostitution cannot be analyzed in terms of free choice.”[43] Of course, if all prostitutes are forced like Adriana and kept in debt-bondage like J, then trafficking and prostitution would universally overlap. But not all cases are like those. Perle found freedom in prostitution in contrast to the exploitation she suffered from her former employer. Substantial numbers of women pay off their debts, according to the IGAS report, and remain in prostitution or go home. Women from Eastern Europe freely travel back and forth. The representative of du Funambus à Nantes spoke of the women she met who were resolved to get to and remain in France, whatever the hardship.

The 2011 Commission report itself noted that

some migrants who prostitute themselves are quite aware of the nature of the business that awaits them. They are not all deceived by false promises or physically forced into prostitution. Sometimes they deliberately choose this activity in order to earn large sums of money in a short time, in order to finance another project in their home countries, usually underestimating the violence generated by the network or the prostitution activity itself and the share of income they can keep.[44]

Whether they misestimate or not, they persist because they have goals that make the hardships worth enduring. Clearly, good trafficking policy ought to be sensitive to the facts on the ground. If 50% of “trafficked” prostitutes are like Perle and R, then a policy that assumes that 90% of prostitutes are like Adriana and J will misfire. The abolitionist deputies had no doubt their own estimates were right. But nothing in their hearings and testimony supported such confidence.

There’s no question that Adriana-type trafficking takes place in France.[45] It is worth noting that the violence and duress associated with trafficking derives at least in part from France’s own draconian anti-pimping laws. The police are convinced their anti-procuring campaigns deter pimps and traffickers. Given that the police break up fifty networks a year, deterrence hasn’t exactly been a striking success. More likely the campaigns lead to less ruthless pimps being replaced by more ruthless ones. If prostitutes themselves face prison terms by mutually associating and self-organizing – they are then pimps themselves under the law – the room for above-board market arrangements and relative autonomy doesn’t exist. Prostitutes are forced to operate in an underworld. And in the underworld, the law of the jungle governs. The new French prostitution policy does nothing to change this.


Several provisions of the new legislation are meant to ease the process of exit. Here is how one commission describes the challenge:

The reintegration of prostitutes faces many obstacles: they have no alternative income; they must sometimes find emergency housing; they need access to specific support and vocational rehabilitation; their efforts are often hampered because of poor health. . . . Furthermore, foreigners are often illegally on French territory.[46]

The new legislation increases funding for prostitute exit associations (but the funding is pretty modest); it allows more coordination among associations, housing agencies, health providers, and the like; it makes available language training and vocational instruction; it provides for a modest stipend; and most importantly, it gives foreign prostitute-leavers temporary residence permits even if they don’t cooperate with authorities in pursuing and prosecuting their pimps and traffickers.

Abolitionists assume that many prostitutes will seize the chance to leave. However, this assumption is rendered dubious by conflicting accounts of the prostitute’s condition.

If prostitutes are under the continuous tight control of violent managers who threaten them and threaten retaliation against relatives back home, not many prostitutes are going to step forward. On the other hand, if many can and do step forward, this suggests more freedom of movement and room for choice than the abolitionist orthodoxy contends.

The temporary residence permits are supposed to be attractive to non-native prostitute-leavers. The permits can be renewed, but only for a time. Eventually the foreign women who enter an exit program will be deported. Lise Tamm, the Stockholm International Prosecutor advising the French Parliament, claimed that, in Sweden, “most girls want to return to their country.” Some do, no doubt, but many have risked a lot and endured hardship to get away from their homes of origin. They do not want to go back. Even so, they can’t stay in Sweden: “Having been the victim of a trafficking network is not enough to be regularized,” notes Tamm.[47] The same will be true in France. Thus, how attractive prostitutes find France’s exit routes will depend on the degree of their desire to go home as much as on their desire to be free of onerous conditions.

A second muddle involves money. The parliamentary debates and reports present two opposed stories about money. Here is one portrait offered by the 2011 fact-finding Commission report, in line with abolitionist orthodoxy:

[T]he networks really rob the prostitutes they control; they take all their earnings, leaving the prostitutes forever in debt and thus captive to the networks. The reality of prostitution: physical constraints, sometimes extreme violence, sexual exploitation, and seizure of the earnings – a disturbing, dirty reality that some try to mask behind a “glamorous” facade.

The 2001 Vidalies Report on trafficking gave readers an instance of this canonical abolitionist representation. An Interpol official told Vidalies that

an Albanian prostitute can earn about 80,000 French francs. Her pimp has, on average, five prostitutes [in his stable]. He gives a paltry 100 francs a month to each of his “girls” and sends $100 US a month to their families.[48]

According to the 2011 Commission report, the key to stimulating exit is providing “credible alternatives to prostitution.”[49] Now, an oppressed and penniless prostitute, like the Albanian in the Vidalies Report, ought to find in the limited housing and small stipend she will get from France’s welfare system a credible alternative to her present condition. But what if she is not penniless?

A second picture emerging from parliamentary deliberations suggests that exiting is going to require more of the French government than it’s prepared to give. The alternative picture emphasizes the financial gains that accrue to prostitutes. According to Maud Olivier, a principal architect of the new legislation, “the issue of the loss of revenue related to the cessation of prostitution is a key element, which can hamper the exit from prostitution.”[50] One representative of a prostitute support association explained to the National Assembly how the “hampering” will happen:

It is unrealistic to think that people who, because of the very high debt their migratory journey incurred, or who have families that depend on the money they send back, will sacrifice their incomes for some 300 euros monthly from ATA [the French welfare stipend].[51]

The 2011 Commission report itself cited testimony noting that any exit policy must

take into account the fact that prostitution is a lucrative business generating profits. Therefore, it is impossible to envisage prostitutes stopping in consideration of social assistance only.[52]

In testimony offered in Senate hearings, the same theme emerged:

[T]he real problem about escaping prostitution is that they make a lot of money. The standard of living drops dramatically when one goes out of prostitution.[53]

Under the new law, women who want to exit will have to contact an “approved” association. Through that association they will be set up with temporary housing, temporary residence permits, and €400 a month.[54] How many prostitutes will find this a better option than their current situation? We’ll see. If a lot do, the €4.8 million fund the French government has set up will quickly be depleted.[55]

Which associations will be approved? Many prostitution support associations fear they will be cut out of funding if they don’t subscribe to an explicit abolitionist program. The fear is not altogether baseless. Danielle Bousquet, president of the Council on Equality between Men and Women and an influential deputy in the Assembly, offered this veiled warning:

From the associations that will be authorized to help the victims of prostitution to exit, we want a commitment to respect the conditions of exit. It is not a question for us of excluding associations that support women by maintaining them in prostitution and ameliorating their work conditions, but we want them to honor abolitionist principles, principles that are not always incorporated in their by-laws. We exclude nobody, but we intend to verify . . . because for us it is not a question of making things better for prostitutes but of getting them out. Thus we ask to the State to adapt its financing accordingly.[56]

After Sweden passed its sex purchase ban there was no sudden rush of prostitutes to get out. Sweden already had in place long-standing prostitution exit agencies. Prostitutes trickled through them after the ban at the same rate as before. France is starting from scratch in creating its exit paths. Time will tell whether it succeeded or failed in offering a “credible alternative” to prostitution.

A last muddle in the parliamentary discussion about exiting should be noted, as well. As one would expect, the parliamentary abolitionist party repudiated the idea that prostitutes choose their work. Indeed, the 2011 Commission report devoted several pages to a quasi-juridical analysis of valid consent. I will save discussion of the report’s analysis for another time but note here a prominent reason the parliamentarians gave for their position that no prostitute chooses freely, a reason that features centrally in abolitionist writings generally. The reason has to do with the power imbalance between client (male) and prostitute (female). “Can we analyze prostitution as simple consent to a contract drawn up, leaving aside the relations of domination between the client and the prostitute?” asked Maud Olivier, author of the report of the Delegation on Women’s Rights.[57] The question is rhetorical; she meant that we cannot leave aside the “relations of domination.” They undermine consent. The Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, testified, obliquely, to the same conclusion.

The problem is that, in the very great majority of the situations, the power of money possessed by the one side and the vulnerability and the social and economic fragility experienced by the other side engender a relationship unbalanced between the consumer of a body and the person who has only her body to offer.[58]

Imbalance of power voids consent. That’s what abolitionists say. If, however, extreme imbalances in power undermine consent – render it invalid or without any moral or legal force – then how is the French prostitute exit program itself even possible? It works by having the prostitute-leaver sign a contract with a qualified association. This prostitute – figuratively naked, literally penniless, friendless, and powerless – stands before the majesty and greatness of the whole French Republic – and makes a contract!

Moreover, the proponents of the new law repeatedly describe the decision to exit as a matter of the prostitute’s wishes. “The abolitionist approach aims to ensure that victims of prostitution and pimping who wish to can get out,” they say.[59] “Our goal is . . . that all prostitutes who wish so can have access to an exit route.”[60] As I’ve already noted, proponents warn that the government must offer “credible alternatives” to the prostitute. The exit path has to be more attractive than her existing options. So, it seems the prostitute does have a will and an inclination to choose the better over the worse prospect from her point of view.

In a moment of pique toward one of the legislation’s frequent critics, Maud Olivier declared, “Those who wish to continue to have sex for money can do so, since they will be free women!”[61] The state’s making an offer to the prostitute – an offer framed by the most extreme imbalance of power imaginable – transforms her into a free woman! Somehow, somewhere, the abolitionist orthodoxy has gone off the rails. If the prostitute-leaver’s contract with the French state is valid and binding, then imbalance of power by itself doesn’t render agreements impossible – and thus, doesn’t mean transactions between prostitute and client are unfree. If an offer of emancipation is something a slave “might take up if she wishes,” we aren’t talking about a slave[62] but someone who can weigh the options before her and might consider her current situation better than the exit path designed by Maud Olivier.


The abolitionist supporters of the new legislation want to shift the stigma associated with prostitutes onto their clients.[63] One parliamentarian lauded the law because it would “change the status of prostitutes to victims instead of offenders . . . [thus ] weakening the specter of stigma and moralizing.”[64] The law, in fact, won’t shift stigma off the prostitute or weaken its specter – if anything, it strengthens stigma against those who refuse the state’s offer to leave. Sweden’s Skarhed Report was quite clear about this: the increase in stigma the sex purchase ban effected in Sweden was a positive outcome because it would serve as a further incentive for prostitutes to leave the business. One French deputy in the final Assembly debate saw the law’s upshot without illusions. Women who sign the contract and foreswear prostitution will benefit from the law’s provisions, he noted; those who do not, will not. Thus the law recreates the distinction between “good women” and “bad women.” Good women leave; those who remain are bad.[65] For them, stigma is their reward.


Because all the sources for this essay are in French, I list them here with short English titles, which I then employ in the footnotes. Some reports are paginated; some are not. I give page numbers where possible. In any case, the “find” function in your browser will point you immediately to any phrase you might seek. All the translations are mine, liberal rather than literal, but with core meaning preserved. 

JOINT COMMITTEE: Rapport Fait au Nom de la Commission Mixte Paritaire Chargée de Proposer Un Texte su les Dispositions Restant en Discusion de la Proposition de Loi Visant à Renforcer la Lutte Controle le Systèm Prostitutionnel et à Accompagner les Personnes Prostituées, 18 novembre 2015,

2011 COMMISSION REPORT: Rapport d’Information par la Commission des Lois Constitutionelles, de la Législation et de l’Administration Générale de la République, en Conclusion des Travaux d’une Mission d’Information sur la Prostitution en France, 13 avril 2011,

DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY: Rapport D’Information Fait au Nom de la Délégation Aux Droits des Femmes et à l’Égalité des Chances Entre les Hommes et Les Hommes Sur le Renforcement de la Lutte Contre le Systèm Prostitutionnel, 17 septembre 2013,

DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-SENATE: Comptes Rendus de la Delegation aux Droits des Femmes, 19 décembre 2013,

OCTOBER 31 HEARING: Commission Spéciale Chargée d’Examiner la Proposition de Loi Renforçant la Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel, 31 octobre 2013,

NOVEMBER 5 HEARING: Commission Spéciale Chargée d’Examiner la Proposition de Loi Renforçant la Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel, 5 novembre 2013,

NOVEMBER 6 HEARING: Commission Spéciale Chargée d’Examiner la Proposition de Loi Renforçant la Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel, 6 novembre 2013,

NOVEMBER 13 HEARING: Commission Spéciale Chargée d’Examiner la Proposition de Loi Renforçant la Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel, 13 novembre 2013,

JULY 1 HEARING: Comptes Rendus de la Commission Speciale sur la Lutte Contre le Systeme Prostitutionnel, 1 juillet 2014,

FINAL READING: Assemblée Nationale, XIVe Legislature, Session Ordinaire de 2015-2016, 06 avril 2016, Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel-Lecture Definitive,

CNCDH: Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits l’Homme, Avis sur la Proposition de Loi Renforçant la Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel, Date d’adoption : 22/05/14,

IGAS REPORT: Prostitutions: Les Enjeux Sanitaires: Rapport Etabli par Claire Aubin, Danielle Jourdain-Menninger, & Dr. Julien Emmanuelli, Membres de l’Inspection Generale des Affaires Sociales, Decembre 2012,

VIDALIES REPORT: Rapport d’Information par la Mission d’Information Commune sur les Diverses Formes de l’Esclavage Moderne, Alan Vidalies, rapporteur, 12 décembre 2001,




[1] JOINT COMMITTEE (“La commission mixte paritaire a constaté qu’elle ne pouvait parvenir à l’adoption d’un texte commun sur la proposition de loi visant à renforcer la lutte contre le système prostitutionnel et à accompagner les personnes prostituées”).
[2] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Les réseaux de l’Europe de l’Est répondent à un modus operandi différent. Certains d’entre eux recourent généralement à la contrainte physique et à la violence psychologique pour forcer les personnes migrantes à se prostituer. M. Jean-Marc Souvira fait ainsi état d’un véritable « parcours de dressage » pour les jeunes femmes de l’Europe de l’Est . . . pour subir le « dressage » à proprement parler, qui recourt de façon systématique à des viols collectifs, à la privation de nourriture, à l’enfermement et à la violence physique. Psychologiquement brisées et conditionnées, les victimes sont alors transférées en Europe occidentale, où leurs conditions de vie et d’exercice, comparativement moins dures, assurent leur entière docilité. Leur loyauté au réseau est également acquise par la menace permanente d’être renvoyées dans les précédents établissements. Enfin, la barrière linguistique achève de les isoler”), p. 48.
[3] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Les victimes de la traite sont presque systématiquement contraintes de se prostituer pour payer leurs dettes”), p. 43.
[4] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Tout ce que gagnent les personnes prostituées est récupéré d’une façon ou d’une autre et contribue à les maintenir dans cet état de prostitution, seule façon de payer leurs dettes”), p. 44. See also DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY, p. 20 (“Comme par ailleurs, les réseaux rançonnent véritablement les personnes prostituées en récupérant leurs gains, leur dette n’est pas près de s’éteindre et les personnes prostituées sont ainsi captives du system”).
[5] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Tout ce que gagnent les personnes prostituées est récupéré d’une façon ou d’une autre et contribue à les maintenir dans cet état de prostitution, seule façon de payer leurs dettes. C’est également ce qu’indique une étude de M. Richard Poulin, sociologue et anthropologue, à propos de personnes prostituées polonaises : « Victimes de violence, elles se retrouvent dans une vitrine, un bordel ou sur le pavé d’une rue, pour rembourser au trafiquant leur prétendue dette : frais de transport, de passeport, d’hébergement. Elles doivent ensuite rembourser le prix payé par le nouveau proxénète qui les a achetées à l’ancien proxénète »”), p. 44.
[6] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Certains avancent que la prostitution, dans le système actuel, serait tolérée mais empêchée en pratique, contrairement à ce que proclame la doctrine abolitionniste. Ce hiatus apparent entre les principes de l’abolitionnisme et la réalité repose sur le constat que, dans les faits, la prostitution est rendue juridiquement difficile par le droit penal. La prostitution ne peut s’exercer que dans peu de lieux, du fait de la répression élargie du proxénétisme. Les personnes prostituées ne peuvent pas exercer leur activité à l’hôtel, dans un bar ou dans un appartement loué, du fait de la répression qui pèse alors sur le propriétaire des lieux, proxénète hôtelier ; elles ne peuvent, pour les mêmes raisons, louer une camionnette, dont le propriétaire sera assimilé au proxénète de soutien ; les personnes prostituées ne peuvent pas devenir propriétaire de leur appartement et y exercer, l’ancien propriétaire étant alors un proxénète immobilier d’après la jurisprudence. Si l’acte prostitutionnel était pratiqué dans un lieu public, comme c’est parfois le cas aujourd’hui (halls d’immeubles, voitures, terrains vagues), la personne prostituée serait coupable d’exhibition sexuelle”), p. 100.
[7] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“La prostitution, comme l’esclavage, ne peut conduire à des contrats quelconques, quand bien même les personnes y consentiraient”), p. 102.
[8] For example, see NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, ministre des droits des femmes-“We have no hesitation, we are driven by a simple belief: the prostitutes are victims” – “Nous n’avons pas d’hésitations, nous sommes portés par une conviction simple : les prostituées sont des victims”);
[9] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Cette doctrine repose sur une conception particulière de la personne prostituée, analysée comme la victime d’un system . . . La personne prostituée étant considérée comme une victim”), p. 91, (“la doctrine abolitionniste, qui considère les personnes prostituées comme des victims”), p. 96.
[10] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“C’est ce dont témoigne l’histoire d’Adriana, qui a quitté l’Albanie à l’âge de 16 ans pour suivre, par amour, un homme plus âgé, qui l’a contrainte à se prostituer une fois en France, menaçant de s’en prendre à sa petite sœur restée au pays: « Là, il a commencé les menaces. Il m’a dit qu’il arriverait quelque chose à ma petite sœur. C’était une idée insupportable »”), p. 49.
[11] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Ce fut notamment le cas d’un réseau libanais, démantelé à Cannes en 2007, qui organisait, à Beyrouth, de faux concours de beauté, dont il tirait ensuite un recueil de photographies de jeunes femmes en maillot de bain, expédié à de riches clients européens. Ceux-ci réservaient une jeune femme via Internet et payaient alors près de 30 000 euros à la tête de réseau. Les personnes prostituées étaient emmenées en tournée, dans le sud de la France et à Ibiza, où elles devaient défiler. Puis, le soir venu, elles étaient contraintes, par surprise, de se prostituer”), pp. 63-64.
[12] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Une victime nigériane de la traite, Baina, rencontrée à l’Amicale du Nid de Paris a témoigné de la gravité des violences subies: alors qu’elle n’avait jamais eu de rapports sexuels, elle a été ligotée et violée à 17 ans. À huit reprises, Baina est tombée enceinte à la suite de rapports avec des clients qui refusaient de mettre un préservatif. Ses proxénètes l’ont, à chaque fois, obligée à avorter en lui donnant des coups de pied dans le ventre. Surveillée en permanence, elle n’a pas eu une minute à elle entre 2000 et 2007”), p. 98.
[13] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Tel a notamment été le cas de Baina, une jeune femme nigériane rencontrée par la mission d’information. Arrivée à l’âge de 17 ans en France, par le biais d’un réseau de traite dont elle ignorait le véritable but, Baina, sous la menace d’un couteau, a été violée puis contrainte de se prostituer. Elle rapporte qu’il lui était alors impossible d’arrêter la prostitution et de s’enfuir, tant ses proxénètes l’avaient endoctrinée. Il lui était même interdit de parler aux associations présentes sur le terrain, car cela risquait de jeter « le mauvais œil » sur la communauté toute entire”), p. 47.
[14] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Mme Claire Quidet, porte-parole du Mouvement du Nid, a indiqué que la longue expérience de son mouvement avait permis de recueillir de nombreux témoignages et récits de vie permettant d’affirmer que la prostitution constitue toujours une violence, même si elle est parfois revendiquée”), p. 244. Emphasis added.
[15] The French law does not make it a crime to purchase sex from a prostitute but an “offense,” dealt with not in criminal courts but in a tribunal for minor infractions.
[16] FINAL READING (“M. Guy Geoffroy, président de la commission spéciale. Oui, monsieur le président, madame la ministre, madame la rapporteure, madame la présidente de la délégation aux droits des femmes, mes chers collègues, ce 6 avril 2016 est un jour important; certains journalistes n’hésitent pas à le qualifier de moment révolutionnaire” – “Yes, Mr president, Madam Minister, Madam Rapporteur, President of the delegation to the rights of women, ladies and gentlemen, this April 6, 2016 is an important day. Some journalists do not hesitate to qualify it as a revolutionary moment”).
[17] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Pénaliser les clients permettrait donc d’écarter une grande partie des réseaux de la France”), p. 277.
[18] DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY (“On voit également que cette mesure est à ce jour la plus efficace pour dissuader les réseaux de traite et de proxénétisme de s’implanter sur les territoires”), p. 107.
[19] NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (Mme Danielle Bousquet, présidente du Haut conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes  – “Car dès lors qu’il y aura moins de clients, il y aura moins de prostitution et donc moins de traite d’êtres humains”).
[20] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Des peines de confiscation peuvent également être prononcées”), p. 123. The  Minister of Women’s Rights at the time referred to the anti-procuring law as a “broad spectrum offense,” which it certainly is. NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: “the offense of procuring, which must remain a broad spectrum offense” / “le cœur de notre politique en matière de prostitution doit demeurer l’infraction de proxénétisme, qui doit rester une infraction à large spectre”).
[21] FINAL READING (Mme Marie-Louise Fort: “Enfin, certains considèrent que la peine d’amende d’ordre contraventionnelle relève du pur symbole par l’insuffisance de son niveau”).
[22] NOVEMBER 5 HEARING (Mme Emmanuelle Piet, présidente du Collectif féministe contre le viol: “Interdire par la loi l’achat d’une relation sexuelle aurait une puissante portée educative” / “Prohibiting by law the purchase of sex would have a powerful educational impact;” Mme Christine Passagne: “Une loi actant le caractère délictuel du recours à la prostitution aura une très forte valeur symbolique” / “A  law establishing the criminal character of prostitution-use will have a very strong symbolic value”); NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, ministre des droits des femmes: “la nouveauté introduite par votre texte a donc une portée symbolique immense” / “the novelty of your text therefore has immense symbolic importance”).
[23] NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: “Le rapport que l’Inspection générale des affaires sociales m’a remis en décembre dernier montre que la loi pénalisant le racolage a créé des stratégies d’évitement très préjudiciables à la santé des personnes prostituées et à la santé publique”).
[24] OCTOBER 31 HEARING (“S’agissant de cette proposition de loi, nous sommes très inquiets : la pénalisation du client ne fera qu’accroître la stigmatisation des prostituées”).
[25] OCTOBER 31 HEARING (“Pour nous, la pénalisation des clients ne peut avoir d’autre effet que d’accentuer ces effets négatifs : les personnes seront amenées à se rendre plus invisibles ou à rester dans l’invisibilité, qui est un facteur de risque ; ne pouvant plus entrer en contact avec des clients dans la rue, elles seront contraintes de recourir à des intermédiaires, qui le feront pour elles par le biais d’Internet, et qui leur organiseront des rendez-vous”).
[26] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Dès lors, la perspective des politiques publiques ne peut être que celle d’un monde sans prostitution . . . Cet objectif ambitieux ne doit cependant pas avoir pour conséquence de causer un tort aux personnes prostituées”), p. 15. Emphasis added.
[27] NOVEMBER 13 HEARING (“nous ne pouvons pas ne pas entendre les interrogations et les préoccupations formulées par un certain nombre d’acteurs et d’associations. Le fait d’inciter les personnes prostituées à ne pas apparaître ne leur fait-il pas courir un risque accru en termes de santé ? Ne rend-il pas plus difficile leur suivi par les pouvoirs publics et les associations?”). Touraine’s reservation were based in part on mixed reports about the Swedish policy that the abolitionists in the National Assembly wanted to emulate. Not all studies confirmed the rosy picture of the 2010 Skarhed Report.
[28] CNCDH (“concernant la généralisation de la pénalisation des clients de la prostitution, la CNCDH estime que cette mesure pourrait s’avérer contre-productive, parce qu’elle risquerait notamment d’isoler davantage les victimes de traite et d’exploitation sexuelle. . . que les arguments en défaveur de cette mesure l’emportent sur les arguments la soutenant, malgré la valeur pédagogique et éducative qu’une telle mesure emporterait”).
[29] NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (“Certains s’inquiètent, en effet, qu’en sanctionnant les clients, on ne conduise à éloigner la prostitution des centres-villes Mais si les prostituées ne sont plus passibles de poursuites, elles se sentiront plus en sécurité en centre-ville, ce qui ne sera pas le cas des clients, et c’est bien ce que nous recherchons : qu’ils se sentent en insécurité, et donc qu’ils soient moins nombreux. L’important est que les prostituées se sentent en sécurité et légitimes en ville. C’est le pari que nous faisons. Si la mesure a des effets problématiques à court terme, les mesures d’accompagnement permises par la création du fonds permettront d’intervenir davantage auprès des prostituées. Ce que nous voulons, c’est qu’à moyen et long termes, les moyens de cette politique publique fassent reculer la prostitution”).
[30] IGAS REPORT, pp. 3, 6 (“Le manque de donnees prive actuellement les autorites publiques d’indicateurs pour conduire leur action, et contribue a alimenter les controverses sur une question qui reste fres polemique”).
[31] IGAS REPORT, p. 3.
[32] IGAS REPORT, p. 12.
[33] IGAS REPORT, pp. 17-18
[34] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“C’est aussi le cas de Lucie, dont le témoignage est rapporté par Mme Sylvie Bigot : «Fonctionnaire, elle s’est mise en disponibilité pour reprendre des études universitaires et s’est lancée dans l’escorting parallèlement pour répondre, selon ses propres termes, à une détresse matérielle et une détresse amoureuse. En effet, elle a essuyé une grosse déception amoureuse, puis a essayé sans grande satisfaction les relations sans lendemain avant de s’orienter vers les relations tarifées»”), p. 56.
[35] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Parmi les étudiants qui se prostituent, la volonté de s’inscrire en rupture par rapport aux valeurs morales transmises par la famille peut motiver l’entrée dans la prostitution, comme le montre Mme Éva Clouet: «Anne-Sophie a commencé à se prostituer occasionnellement à la fin du mois de novembre 2006. Cette pratique, à l’opposé de l’éducation inculquée par ses parents, marque sa volonté de rompre avec «une éducation stricte et étouffante» […] En se prostituant, Anne-Sophie se heurte frontalement à la morale familiale»”), p. 57.
[36] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“C’est également ce qui ressort du témoignage de Perle, recueilli par Mmes Nasima Moujoud et Dolorès Pourette: «Perle a 45 ans, elle est originaire de la Chine du Nord. Elle est en France depuis trois ans et demi au moment de notre rencontre. Divorcée depuis treize ans, elle a un fils de 18 ans qui vit avec elle. Elle a été licenciée il y a huit ans, alors qu’elle travaillait dans une fabrique d’instruments chirurgicaux. […] Perle est venue avec quatre autres personnes, en versant la somme de 50,000 francs (7,600 €) à des passeurs pour le voyage et le visa touristique. Elle a emprunté cette somme à sa famille, qu’elle a remboursée en deux ans. Arrivée en France, elle a été embauchée chez des Wenzhou (Chinois originaires de la région du même nom, située dans la province du Zhejiang) comme «nourrice». Payée 3,000 francs (450 €) par mois, elle travaillait, tous les jours, toute la journée, avec seulement deux jours de repos par mois. Elle n’était en outre ni nourrie, ni logée – elle mangeait aux Restos du coeur et payait 700 francs (environ 100 €) par mois pour un lit dans un logement appartenant à une famille de Chine du Sud, dans lequel elle dort avec cinq autres personnes, dont deux hommes. Ayant remboursé sa dette au bout de deux ans, elle a arrêté de travailler en tant que nourrice. Misant tout sur l’avenir de son fils, elle se prostitue pour ne plus être exploitée par un employeur, et pour gagner de quoi financer ses études»”), p. 64.
[37] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“C’est ce que montre Mme Éva Clouet à travers le témoignage de Sandrine, étudiante en situation de prostitution. Cette jeune femme a choisi d’étudier l’architecture dans une grande école. Ses parents n’ayant que peu de moyens financiers du fait d’une situation de chômage prolongée, elle ne souhaite pas dépendre financièrement d’eux, et ce d’autant plus qu’un autre membre de sa famille les sollicite déjà sur le plan financier. Les bourses dont elles bénéficient ne lui permettent pas de subvenir à ses besoins. Bénéficiaire d’une bourse d’échelon 1, elle touchait 1,200 euros par an seulement. Ainsi, pour assumer ses choix en matière d’éducation – elle aurait pu se contenter d’aller dans une université près de la ville de ses parents – elle se prostitue pour ne pas peser financièrement sur ses parents”), p. 67.
[38] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“C’est notamment le cas de certaines femmes chinoises qui se prostituent à Paris. Elles migrent puis recourent parfois à la prostitution pour payer les soins médicaux d’un proche ou les études de leur enfant unique. L’enquête du Lotus Bus rapporte ainsi l’histoire de Mme Z.: «Âgée de 47 ans, elle vient du Liaoning (Nord Est) et a un fils qui fait des études d’informatique. Il est dans sa dernière année d’université et ses études, en Chine, coûtent 10,000 euros par an. Madame Z. est venue en France et a fait de multiples petits boulots comme la garde d’enfants ou de personnes âgées à domicile. Elle a également une mère malade en Chine qui a besoin de se faire opérer des yeux mais l’opération coûte très cher. […] Tout le peu d’argent qu’elle peut économiser est envoyé à sa famille»”), p. 66.
[39] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“La grande vulnérabilité de ces personnes en fait des cibles idéales pour les proxénètes, ainsi que le montre le témoignage de Raïssa, jeune albanaise, qui, mariée de force à un homme violent, décide de quitter son pays : « Un jour, je n’en pouvais plus, je me suis enfuie. […] Là, j’ai rencontré un homme, la trentaine, qui était avec une copine. Un homme normal. Enfin, je le pensais. Il m’a dit qu’à l’Ouest, je pourrais avoir une vie meilleure et un bon travail… À l’arrivée [à Paris], j’ai appelé. J’ai eu une fille qui m’a donné un rendez-vous à la Porte d’Orléans. […] Elle m’a donné des vêtements, des préservatifs et l’après-midi, elle m’a emmenée avec elle à la Porte d’Auteuil. Je n’avais pas un euro, je ne parlais pas un mot de français et je ne connaissais pas Paris. Je ne savais rien. Quand elle m’a dit de l’accompagner, au début, je n’ai pas compris. C’est en arrivant à la Porte d’Auteuil que j’ai compris ce qu’elle faisait. Il y avait une Albanaise et une Russe. Je suis restée sur le trottoir jusqu’à 9 h du soir. Le soir, elle a pris tout mon argent»”), p. 66.
[40] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Ils rapportent le parcours d’une jeune femme belge: «Elle a quitté l’école et est arrivée en Belgique à dix-sept ans, il y a environ quatre ans, avec son fiancé. Ce garçon lui a demandé de se prostituer et cette situation a duré tant qu’ils sont restés en Belgique et ensuite en France où elle a été expulsée. Il s’est arrangé pour la faire retourner à Paris et à la prostitution jusqu’au jour où elle a réussi à se séparer de lui. Elle raconte cette histoire avec beaucoup de force émotive et de rage contre son ex-fiancé» “), p. 72.
[41] NOVEMBER 13 HEARING (“Aujourd’hui, on ne peut plus différencier prostitution et traite des êtres humains puisque 90 % des personnes qui se prostituent seraient d’origine étrangère.”

M. le président Guy Geoffroy. Personne n’a répondu à la question de la rapporteure sur ce qu’il fallait faire pour protéger les victimes de la traite des êtres humains. L’une d’entre vous a parlé de choix d’un parcours de migration : la formule est extraordinaire s’agissant de personnes que l’on est venu chercher chez elles, prenant leur famille en otage, et à qui l’on extorque au final le double de l’argent demandé au départ pour les faire voyager. Quelles solutions alternatives proposez-vous donc pour mieux combattre la traite des êtres humains ? Car c’est bien de cette traite que sont victimes les jeunes migrantes chinoises soumises dans notre pays à des conditions de vie dramatiques. Si l’on récuse l’emploi de moyens légaux pour approcher prostituées et clients et que l’on récuse toute intervention des policiers et gendarmes, comment fait-on, au-delà des déclarations de principe, pour combattre sur le terrain la traite des êtres humains ? Pourriez-vous nous donner des éléments nous permettant d’avancer sur le sujet?

Mme France Arnould. Monsieur le président, quelque chose me dérange dans vos propos. Toutes les personnes immigrées pratiquant la prostitution ne sont pas victimes de la traite des êtres humains. Il ne faut pas faire d’amalgame.

Mme Irène Aboudaram. Coordinator, du Funambus à Nantes. À Nantes, où nous travaillons depuis 2000 auprès de personnes qui se prostituent, nous avons vu varier le profil de la file active, notamment avec l’arrivée de femmes originaires du Nigéria. Si, au regard de la loi, ces femmes sont en effet victimes de la traite, au sens où on les a aidées à passer les frontières puis procuré un hébergement, j’aimerais néanmoins nuancer vos propos, monsieur le président. Même si cela vous heurte, un parcours migratoire peut procéder d’un choix, celui de vivre en Europe, dans un pays offrant de meilleures perspectives que le Nigéria. Il existe une multitude de parcours. Certaines femmes à qui l’on a promis un emploi de garde d’enfants ou un travail dans la restauration ainsi que des papiers se font complètement avoir et sont en effet victimes de la traite. Mais d’autres ont décidé librement de contracter une dette élevée pour venir en France, en disposant de certaines informations même s’il est probable qu’elles ne mesuraient pas totalement les implications d’un tel choix. Une fois en France, certaines ne parviennent pas à s’accommoder du travail dans la rue ; elles souffrent du froid, de la clandestinité, de la peur de la police, des discriminations et du manque d’accès aux soins. Ces femmes ont besoin d’aide pour s’en sortir et votre proposition de loi leur apportera peut-être quelques réponses. D’autres, en revanche, s’accommodent de la situation, parce qu’elles ont réalisé leur projet qui était d’émigrer en Europe. Ce n’est ni un jugement ni de l’idéologie, mais un constat de terrain.

[43] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“La prostitution ne saurait être analysée en termes de libre choix”), p. 197.
[44] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“certaines migrantes qui se prostitueront sont relativement conscientes de la nature de l’activité qui les attend. Elles ne sont pas toutes abusées par de fausses promesses ou contraintes physiquement à se prostituer. Il arrive qu’elles choisissent sciemment cette activité afin de gagner d’importantes sommes d’argent en peu de temps, afin de nourrir un autre projet dans leur pays d’origine, sous-estimant généralement la violence générée par le réseau ou l’activité de prostitution elle-même et la part de revenus qu’elles pourront conserver”), p. 66.
[45] See VIDALIES REPORT generally. Vidalies insists on distinguishing migrant-smuggling from trafficking, p. 24.
[46] DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY (“La réinsertion des personnes prostituées se heurte à de nombreux obstacles : elles n’ont pas de revenu de substitution, doivent parfois trouver un logement d’urgence, elles doivent pouvoir accéder à un accompagnement spécifique, et les démarches de réinsertion professionnelle sont souvent rendues difficiles du fait de leur état de santé et de la difficulté à justifier de temps d’inactivité. Par ailleurs, les personnes étrangères sont très souvent en situation irrégulière sur le territoire français”).
[47] NOVEMBER 5 HEARING (“Il leur est en revanche difficile d’obtenir un titre de séjour permanent, à moins qu’elles ne soient arrivées dans le pays très jeunes. Avoir été victime d’un réseau de traite ne suffit pas pour être régularisé. Si tel était le cas, cela pourrait d’ailleurs encourager les trafics. La plupart des filles souhaitent retourner dans leur pays”).
[48] VIDALIES REPORT (“Mme Agnès Fournier de Saint-Maur, alors chef du département spécialisé dans la traite des êtres humains au secrétariat général d’Interpol a indiqué « qu’une prostituée albanaise rapportait environ 80 000 francs français par mois. En moyenne, on compte cinq prostituées par proxénète : une somme ridicule de l’ordre de 100 francs par mois leur est reversée tandis qu’environ 100 dollars US sont envoyés à leur famille pour subvenir à leurs besoins”), p. 34.
[49] IGAS REPORT (“D’autre part, il faut garantir, par la mise en œuvre d’un accompagnement intégral, l’existence d’alternatives crédibles à la prostitution”), p. 58.
[50] DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY (“Votre Rapporteure considère que la question de la perte de revenus liée à l’arrêt de la prostitution est un élément déterminant, qui peut constituer un frein à la sortie de la prostitution”), p. 73.
[51] OCTOBER 31 HEARING (Tim Leicester: “Il est en effet irréaliste de penser que des personnes qui, du fait de leur parcours migratoire, ont de très lourdes dettes ou des familles qui dépendent de l’argent qu’elles leur envoient vont sacrifier leurs revenus pour toucher les quelque 300 euros mensuels de l’ATA”).
[52] 2011 COMMISSION REPORT (“Il convient de tenir compte du fait que la prostitution est une activité lucrative génératrice de profits. Dès lors, il est impossible d’envisager un arrêt net de cette activité en contrepartie des seules aides sociales”), p. 249. Emphasis added.
[53] DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-SENATE (“le vrai problème de la sortie de la prostitution, c’est que l’on gagne beaucoup d’argent en se prostituant. Le niveau de vie baisse énormément lorsque l’on sort de la prostitution”). Emphasis added.
[54] Gaëlle Dupont, “Prostitution: la loi qui va tout changer,” Le Monde, 6 Avril 2016, (“Il prévoit que celles et ceux qui souhaitent arrêter pourront être aidés par des associations agréées, bénéficier d’un hébergement et d’une aide financière d’environ 400 euros par mois. Les étrangères en situation irrégulière pourront obtenir un titre de séjour de six mois, renouvelable pendant tout ce parcours”).
[55] Gaëlle Dupont, “Prostitution: la loi qui va tout changer” (“Si un millier de personnes s’y engage, il sera déjà complètement englouti,” observe M. Théry. Mme Olivier table sur une montée en charge du fonds, jusqu’à 20 millions d’euros annuels”).
[56] NOVEMBER 6 HEARING (Danielle Bousquet: “Nous souhaitons que soit demandé aux associations qui seront habilitées à aider les personnes victimes de prostitution dans leur parcours de sortie de s’engager à respecter les conditions de ce parcours. Il ne s’agit pas pour nous d’exclure les associations qui accompagnent les femmes en les maintenant dans la prostitution et en aménageant les conditions dans lesquelles elles s’y livrent, mais nous voulons qu’elles s’engagent à respecter les principes abolitionnistes qui ne sont pas forcément inscrits dans leurs statuts. Nous n’excluons personne, mais nous entendons vérifier que les associations ne feront pas n’importe quoi car il ne s’agit pas pour nous d’aménager la prostitution, mais d’en sortir. Nous demandons donc à l’État de prévoir les financements adaptés, car s’occuper de personnes qui sortent de la prostitution est une démarche longue et difficile qui exige des personnes formées”).
[57] DELEGATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY (“Peut-on analyser la prostitution comme un simple consentement à un contrat établi, en faisant abstraction des rapports de domination entre le client et la personne prostituée?”), p. 98.
[58] NOVEMBER 13 HEARING (“D’aucuns considèrent qu’il faut respecter la possibilité pour des personnes adultes consentantes d’avoir des rapports sexuels tarifés. Le problème est que, dans la très grande majorité des situations, le pouvoir de l’argent d’un côté, la vulnérabilité et la fragilité sociale et économique de l’autre, engendrent un rapport déséquilibré entre le consommateur d’un corps et la personne qui n’a comme richesse que ce corps à offrir”).
[59] DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY (“Then the signing of the tripartite agreement already described above involving the prostitute, the State and the authorized association . . . /La signature ensuite du contrat tripartite déjà décrit plus haut impliquant la personne prostituée, l’État et l’association habilitée . . .”)  p. 72.
[60] JULY 1 HEARING (Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: “Notre objectif est l’abolition : que toutes les personnes prostituées qui le souhaitent aient accès à un parcours de sortie”).
[61] FINAL READING (“Les personnes qui voudront continuer à avoir des relations sexuelles contre de l’argent pourront le faire, puisque ce seront des femmes libres”).
[62] OCTOBER 30 HEARING (Yves Charpenel, président de la fondation Scelles: “Un esclave peut-il reconnaître qu’il est esclave?”).
[63] DELEGATION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS-ASSEMBLY (“we must ensure that it is not prostitutes who are stigmatized for their situation, but those who benefit, i.e., pimps and clients.” / “De la même façon, en matière de prostitution, nous devons faire en sorte que ce ne soient plus les personnes prostituées qui soient stigmatisées pour leur situation, mais bien ceux qui en profitent, à savoir les proxénètes et les clients de la prostitution”), p. 97.
[64] FINAL READING (Gilda Hobert: “Je tiens à souligner les objectifs absolument positifs de ce texte. Ainsi prévoit-il le changement de statut des personnes prostituées qui accéderont à celui de victimes et non plus de délinquantes, disposition qui éloigne l’épouvantail de la stigmatisation et de la moralisation”).
[65] FINAL READING (M. Sergio Coronado: “La conditionnalité exigée témoigne de toute absence de volonté d’assurer un égal accès aux droits pour toutes et tous. En fait, toutes les victimes ne se valent pas : il y a les bonnes… et les autres, celles qui veulent quitter du jour au lendemain la prostitution… et les autres, toutes et tous les autres”).