French sex workers face growing repression
Cabiria is a community-based health project implemented since 1993 working with and for sex workers. The field team as well as the steering comitee include sex workers, health workers and researchers. We are heterosexual, gay or lesbian, French or not, men, women or transgenders. Diversity is our weapon and tool in order to stay aware about discrimination and stigma.
Our outreach team works in the streets 4 nights and 4 days per week distributing condoms, lubricants and prevention pieces of advice about HIV, STD, hepatitis and pregnancy. We also work on addiction (alcohol or drugs) and harm reduction. Our premises are open 5 days a week from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. We share a dinner twice a week, where anyone can join. The field team provides all sex workers with legal, medical and social support. We also work with lawyers to support migrant sex workers. Our fight for the respect of human right is essential, especially regarding violence from the police or from pimps or traffickers. We also have a research department with sex workers and we carry on researches on gender, violence and migration.
Since the latest presidential elections, we noticed a real change in government policy. Sex workers have been facing an all-out police repression caused by anti-prostitution municipal orders in several French towns (Orleans, Strasbourg, Aix-en-Provence, Lyon…) and by a bill proposed by the new Home Secretary. This bill plans that soliciting will be punished by a 6 months prison sentence and a 3 750 € fine. Migrants will be expulsed whether they have got a residence permit or not when they will be seen working the street by the police.
The municipal order in Lyon has been in force since August, 1st. Repression gradually increased. Sex workers are harassed, frightened and jailed ; likened to delinquents, threatened, sent back to clandestinity and permanently exposed to violence. Since May, we have been writing all kind of repression that have been facing sex workers in a journal that is already 20 pages long. There is a real increase in violence. This is violence from the police, from clients and from inhabitants. French population seems to be thinking that there is now impunity and that they have the right to trouble sex workers because so does the government. We organised a demonstration on August, 13th in front of the City Hall. We were about 50 people, Cabiria’s workers and French, East European and African sex workers. Then at the beginning of September, we met members of the City Hall and exposed us the consequences that we already noticed in the sex workers community.
That is the increasing of violence towards sex workers from clients, the police and inhabitants and the fear that is suffering the community. It didn’t have any effect. Then we published 4 press releases through the media denouncing those municipal orders and the Sarkozy’s bill. In October, the Home Secretary presented his bill to the Cabinet and once again, we organised a demonstration on October, 5th in Lyon to denounce it. We were more than 400 people from several organisations and sex workers of various nationalities. Later, on November 5th in Paris, on the day when it has been presented to the Senate we co-organised a national demonstration gathering 1000 people from various cities (Marseille, Lille, Metz, Lyon, Toulouse, Avignon, Paris. The left wing groups of senators accepted to receive a 6 sex workers representatives delegation. Then, on November, 26th the law commission of the National Assembly invited us to a round-table where we explained again the terrible consequences of such a law. Especially concerning migrant women that will suffer from a double discrimination. Added to a sentence in France (which will exclude them from application to administrative legalisation), they will be expelled. Then, they will suffer from exclusion from their family and some of them will be murdered or will join again trafficking networks.
The rapporteur of the commission hardly listened to sex workers and kept repeating that this law was supposed to fight against transnational bribery and pimping. The day after, we read in a newspaper article (Le Monde) that this Mp, the rapporteur was implicated in money laundering! There is no real proof that he really is, so we cannot hope that it will change anything. But isn’t it ironic? Now, we are waiting for the examining of the bill by the Assembly on January 14th. Then the Senate will look at it again and it will certainly be in force at the beginning of February.
France is now facing a demagogic psychosis that leads politicians to take measures that criminalize prostitution, poverty and youth. The bill also provides that homelesses will be prosecuted as well as young people gathering in building lobbies. It is just a manner to attract a numerous electorate composed by middle classes that have been manipulated by the media. Since the presidential elections, TV and newspapers have been broadcasting programs and interviews that focused on growing insecurity. Few people denounced the bill. We were the first to initiate resistance by publishing press releases and communicating with the media since the end of June.
It is only since October that other organisations have started to denounce it. We are now lobbying the political sphere and hope that some member of parliament will understand that they cannot agree with such a bill.