Yesterday, France joined Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, and Northern Ireland on the list of progressive countries that have approved laws criminalizing those who buy sex rather than those being sold. By a margin of nearly five to one, the French Parliament officially made France part of a growing movement targeting the demand for illegal commercial sex. The law recognizes that holding buyers accountable is the best way to end the exploitation of millions of vulnerable people.
Following recommendations set forth by the European Parliament, France’s new law states that anyone caught purchasing sex will be fined over $1,000 and be required to attend classes that explain the true extent of the harms inherent to prostitution. The law exempts from prosecution those being sold for sex, and also provides exit services for people looking to escape prostitution.
This approach – prosecuting sex-buyers rather than those being sold – is known as the Nordic Model. The goal is to reduce demand for illegal commercial sex rather than try to curtail the supply. The premise is that the buyers are the ones with the choice and the resources, and should be held accountable. Countries that have embraced this approach have reported reduced rates of prostitution and sex-trafficking.
Awareness is increasing that commercial sex is exploitative and often violent – and rarely a matter of choice and empowerment. We hope the US will join France and adopt its own version of the Nordic model. The most effective way to end this problem is to focus on the buyers: When they stop buying, the entire system of degradation collapses.