France has just made the act of buying sex illegal. French neighborhoods such as Pigalle, whose streets are lined with sex shops, prostitutes and adult shows such as the Moulin Rouge, will no longer be an open tourist spot for men seeking to pay for sex.

RT reports that a European Commission study found that France has about 37,000 prostitutes in an industry estimated to have brought in about $3.6 billion in 2015, although verifying those numbers is difficult because of the industry’s underground nature. The bill, first debated in 2013, passed this week on a 64-12 vote, with many members of Parliament absent. The new law views sex workers as victims and puts the legal onus on their customers.

The Guardian reports:

The Socialist MP Maud Olivier, who championed the bill in France, said the aim was to “reduce [prostitution], protect prostitutes who want to leave it and to change mentalities”.

Bruno Le Roux, the head of the Socialist group in parliament, said: “You don’t hire a woman like you hire a car. Our society should no longer tolerate it.”

Opponents of the law warned that cracking down on clients could push sex workers further underground and into vulnerable situations with less protection.

A crucial part of the legislation is that it will abolish a controversial 2003 law, introduced by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was interior minister, that banned passive soliciting on the street. This law had made it illegal to stand in a public place known for prostitution dressed in revealing clothes. It had been widely criticised by charities and support groups on the ground.

The legislation passed on Wednesday will treat the sex worker as a victim rather than a criminal. It will also make it easier for foreign sex workers, many of whom are illegally in France, to acquire a temporary residence permit if they embark on a programme to find other work.

In France, prostitution itself – receiving money for sex – is not a crime. But activities around it are. Laws prohibit pimping, human trafficking and buying sex from a minor. Brothels were outlawed in 1946.

— Posted by Donald Kaufman.

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