The French Parliament has begun debate on a bill to institute penalties for individuals who seek to purchase sexual services. Under current French law prostitution is legal, however soliciting and procuring are illegal, including working in or operating a brothel. Maud Olivier – one of the Members of Parliament (MP) who introduced the legislation – wrote in a report to parliament, “There would be no prostitution without clients – that goes without saying. But we also know there will always be clients for prostitution. Our ambition should be to try to reduce the number.”
Presently, a prostitute convicted of soliciting will face a fine of €3,750 ($5,096) and a two-month prison sentence. The legislation before the French Parliament would remove this penalty and instead penalize the customer with either a €1,500 ($2,000) fine and/or be required to attend a course about the conditions in which prostitution is carried out. The fine for repeat offenders could be doubled.
If passed, the legislative bodies of surrounding countries may consider changes to their laws. Sylvie Corbet reported, “The proposed law… follows the example of Sweden, which passed similar legislation in 1999.
A report commissioned by the Swedish government showed that the number of people involved in street prostitution in Sweden’s three largest cities dropped [by over half] 10 years after [passage]. At the same time, street prostitution in neighboring Norway and Denmark increased.”
As with most issues, there are more than two sides. Obviously there are those who support this legislation and believe it could reduce sex trafficking and empower prostitutes. Some opponents of this bill, “fear that cracking down will push prostitutes into a dangerous position: Being forced to hide, they would be even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients, and cut off from the organizations able to help them.” A third group, which includes 60 French celebrities, has crafted a petition stating, “Without supporting or promoting prostitution, we reject the penalization of those who prostitute themselves and those who buy their services, and we ask for a real debate without ideological prejudice.”
The sad truth is that a, “real debate without ideological prejudice” isn’t likely to take place in France, or even in the US anytime soon. The vast majority of people don’t want to have a real debate on prostitution or any other issue. It seems as though Noam Chomsky was right when he said, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
Allow me to break out of that narrow spectrum to ask: should consenting adults not be able to contract for services without interference from a government?