French Parliament to Vote on Prostitution Law

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Between now and Friday, the Assemblée Nationale will debate and vote on a proposed law to punish those who pay for prostitution (Above: prostitutes march in protest carrying placards saying “Whore with no clients seeks government position”)

The proposed law is a product of the current socialist government but it’s one that seems to have more-or-less unified the right and left in a debate that has seen contributions from all strata of society in what has become a robust national debate.

Among the most colourful nay-sayers of the proposed legislation is screen siren Catherine Deneuve. She was one of several dozen celebrities who signed a petition against the government proposal that was published in Le Point magazine. Deneuve is an iconic figure in French cinema and one of her most famous roles was that of a prostitute in Luis Buñuel’s 1967 film “Belle du Jour”.

“Without supporting or promoting prostitution, we refuse the penalisation of people who prostitute themselves and those who seek their services and we call for a real debate without ideological pretext.” So read the manifesto that was signed by about 60 stars of stage and screen, that ranged from the likes of of former Culture Minister Jack Lang to former Téléphone guitarist Louis Bertignac and 89-year-old singer Charles Aznavour.

The text of the law proposes that anyone found soliciting the services of a prostitute will be fined €1,500; a sum that doubles if it’s a repeat offence. Many are wondering if this law is a solution to enforced prostitution or just another way of forcing prostitution further into hiding.

“A law that penalises even more will only send those who work in this trade further underground.” So says 69-year-old Antoine – a well-known singer/songwriter and actor who was the driving force behind the anti-legislation petition. “We all agree that the government should fight against forced prostitution,” he says, but he doubts the veracity of the official government “figures of convenience” that show that 90% of prostitution is de facto slavery.

He was at pains to point out that his petition has nothing to do with one that came out in October to much public outrage. It was entitled “Hands off my Whore” (Touche pas à ma pute), and was signed by citizens of the French Republic who identified themselves as “343 bastards”.

As it stands, prostitution of itself is legal in France for consenting adults, but soliciting and pimping are not.

In any case, it’s all a bit of a moot point as the law is expected to be carried by a large majority. The ruling Socialist party is in favour. The opposition UMP does have some dissenters in their midst, but the majority of them are also expected to approve of this law. UMP chief whip and President Jean-François Copé has publicly assured that his party members will have complete freedom to vote as they see fit.

Copé himself has said that he regards the law “very favourably” but that he has yet not decided whether or not he’ll vote for it or abstain from the vote.

The issue will be voted on within the coming days before going to the Senate, with the parliamentary debate due to start this evening. A recent pole published on BFMTV suggested that up to 68% of the French public are against the law.

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