Meet Samantha, early twenties and « jeune et jolie » as the French would say. Samantha works in the Bois de Boulogne on th edge of downtown Paris. Sam only works nights though.

Samantha is a prostitue, or sex worker, as she prefers to be called, and she is not ashamed of the fact. She would be the first to admit that this is not a job like any other, however, Sam is adament that this is reglar and gainful employment. « Prostitutes pay taxes like everyone else » she says. « Why shouldn’t we have the same rights and protection as other workers ? »

Samantha, with her friends Chloé, Angelique and many other girls who work the woods, is not happy. Since early April, business has been down by 50%. The reason, a planned new law that woul, « punish all those using the services of a prostitute » (direct translation from the French). Since the idea of the new law hit the headlines, the punters have deserted the Bois de Boulogne in droves.

So indignant are the nation’s sex workers about the proposed law, that hundreds of them took to the Streets of the nation’s major cities last Thursday (June 2nd) to demonstrate.

Sex Workers Demo June 2nd 2011

In this, the land of « Irma la Douce », there is a definite move to outlaw prostitution.

The law defines prostitution as « the exchange of sexual services for money ». This in itself is not illégal. However under the 1994 French law on bioethics, in France it is illegal to « sell or rent part, or all of one’s body. » So, you can’t sell your kidneys or rent out your womb. After a long search on the Internet, it would appear that the only part of your body from which you can get any Financial gain, is your hair. It is not illégal to sell that – presumably to a wig maker.

However, under the strict French privacy laws, an individual is allowed to use his body as her or she sees fit, even for lucrative ends. Therefore, it could not be said that prostituions is légal, but the right to prostitute one’s self is. It all dépends on how and where it is done.

Prostitution is therefore « tolerated » , however several related activities are not , including soliciting, procuring, running a brothel, living of the the avails and paying for sex with someone under the age of 18.

In the case of procuring, running a brothel or living off avails – those activities associated with pimps – all are punishable under French law with a 150,000€ fine and a seven year prison sentence. The law states more precisley that anyone knowingly living off monies earned by a prostitute or sharing « the benefits » can be punished under the law. This basically means that anyone living with a prostitute is also targetted.

So, where do the sex workers work?

Until 1946, almost every town had its local brothel or « Maison Close » - run by « Madame » for local dignitaries – for an idea of how they worked you can always read that excellent short story by Maupassant – « La Maison Tellier » -

On April 13th 1946 however, the nation’s 1400 or so « maison close » were all closed by law – the Marthe Richard Law. Madame Richard, (1889 – 1982) was a héro of the French Resistance in World War Two, a spy in World War One, a pioneer of French female aviation between the wars and, in her younger days, she had also been a prostitute.

Marthe Richard in 1946

Marthe Richard’s campaign against the brothels started in 1945, when she was a local councillor in the 4th arrondissemnt in Paris. On December 13th 1945, she demanded that the local authorities take action to close down the 3 brothels in the 4th arrondissment. After a lengthy campaign by Marthe Richard, the closure was voted. Hre wause was then taken up by the highly moral Communist government of the day , and on April 13th 1946, i twas dereed that all France’s 1400 « maisons closes » (180 in Paris) should shut up shop for good. The prostitutes had to find new places to ply their trade. In November 1945, there was further législation on prostitution, though still légal, prostitutes were requierd to register as such with local authorities.

Spanning the years, we come to the last and most controversial of legisltaion on « the oldest trade. » - those rules on prostitution enshrined in the 2003 public order law, drawn up by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was Interior Minister. So here is the curent law as it stands

« A man or woman may seek or offer compensation for sexual services (except for paying for those under 18) but may not advertise this fact « Racolage » (soliciting), including racolage passif (passive soliciting) is prohibited. This is defined as standing in a public place known for prostitution, dressed in revealing attire, and is punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of €3750. Owning or operating a brothel is illegal.

All forms of « proxénétisme » (procuring) are illegal. Proxénétisme is defined as:helping or protecting someone to prostitute themselves ; profiting from the prostitution of another or receiving funds from someone who prostitutes themselves habitually (living off the avails) :
hiring or training someone to prostitute themselves or pressuring someone to prostitute themselves. »

The new move to « punish » clients is not yet enshrined in law. The idea is still not even at the « green paper » stage, t is for the moment an idea from a parliamentary commission. Quite wht the conséquences would be ? Well, such a law would effectively remove prostitution from public places and would put pay to the « independent prostitute » - the result would be to drice the sex trade underground and reinforce the grip of those « gangmasters » who run clandestine prostitution networks.

Curent staistics put the number of prostitutes in France at 20,000. At last 80% of this fugure are girls of non-French origin, many of them « exploited » by clandestine networks. I guess the logic is the following – if it is illégal to use and pay for the services of a prostitute, the clientel will dry up and so will the business. If there are no more clients there will be no more prostitutes. I daresay though we are all set to see an explosion in massage parlours – many already are fronts for clandestine brothels. Young oriental girls offer their services quite legally as « masseuses » however, clients can ask for a « manual finish » or an « on top massage ».

As for the prices for the pleasure of a young ladies company – Une Passe (as the French call it) can vary from fifteen minutes to an hour and prices range from 80 Euros (in the back of a transit van) to 150 Euros for an hour in a hôtel (price of the room extra). If there are more and more young ladies (especially impeccunious students) indulging in prostitution, it is because the money is good. An escort girl with a « reputable » agancy can earn 1000 Euros for an evening and up to 3000 Euros for the night – quite what she does for this money is at the young ladies discrétion. (Info gleaned from the web and not personal expérience – I could never afford it on French civil service pay – I wonder how many teachers ressort to prostitution to augment their monthly pitance ?)

Watch this space for prostitutional developments.

French sex workers have their own, very informative web site. Follow the link below

Finally, prostitution in small town France - well I've never seen ayone out plying their trade, but we have a wide selection of clubs and bars where this sort of thing happens - then of coures there is the green Volkswagen combi that is parked four nights a week at a popular lay by on the local bypass - always plenty of truckers whi are in-between two trucks. When the cobi's roof is up, it is open for business, and that's the way it's been for the last 20 years.