The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear a case brought by 261 sex workers who challenge the French law that penalizes the purchase of sex. The sex workers, who are migrant, queer, and women, claim that the law violates their rights to life, privacy, and freedom from inhumane treatment.
The case was filed in 2019 and declared admissible by the court on August 31, 2023. The court will now examine and rule on the merits of the case, which could have a significant impact on sex workers’ rights in Europe.
The French law, enacted in 2016, makes it a crime to pay for sex acts in France. A person convicted of paying for sex faces fines of up to 3,750 euros and the possibility of being required to attend sensitivity training.
The sex workers argue that the law has unjustly affected their livelihoods and pushed them into operating in a clandestine manner and in isolation. They say this exposes them to greater risks for their physical integrity and lives, and affects their freedom to define how they live their private lives.
The case is supported by several advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance. They oppose the criminalization of sex work and call for laws that protect the rights and safety of sex workers.
The case comes at a critical moment for sex workers’ rights in Europe, as the European Parliament is considering a motion to criminalize the purchase of sex in all EU member states. The motion was tabled for a plenary vote on August 30, 2023, and is based on a report that claims that criminalizing sex work is necessary to combat gender inequality and human trafficking.
However, many experts and civil society organizations have criticized the report and the motion, saying that they are based on flawed assumptions and evidence. They say that criminalizing sex work does not reduce trafficking or violence, but rather increases them by driving sex work underground and exposing sex workers to more abuse and stigma.
The European Court of Human Rights is expected to make its ruling in the coming months. The ruling could set a precedent for other countries in Europe that have adopted or are considering adopting similar laws that criminalize sex work.