Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Joseph Coleman

French prostitutes protest crackdown

PARIS — Wearing white masks with tears painted on them, hundreds of prostitutes rallied in front of the French Senate on Tuesday to protest a high-profile government crackdown on their livelihood.

The demonstrators — women and men — said a crime bill before Parliament that includes tougher measures against prostitution and solicitation would make their lives harder.

"This law won't allow us to work. What do they want me to do? I don't know how to do anything else," said a masked protester who has worked as a prostitute for 20 years. She spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 500 demonstrators singled out Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading proponent of the crackdown, accusing him of being a "killer." Many of the banners waved by protesters condemned him by name.

The anti-crime bill, a broad measure that increases police powers, tightens gun laws and includes penalties for panhandling and loitering, was approved by the Cabinet last month. It still requires Parliamentary passage before it becomes law.

France's center-right government, swept to power in June elections, embarked on a highly publicized campaign against prostitution as part of a wider effort to stem the country's rising crime rate.

Sarkozy has been the standard-bearer for the anti-crime crusade. After taking office, he invited camera crews along as he cruised Paris' streets to scout for prostitutes.

Prostitution is practiced openly in certain parts of Paris, where women in short skirts can be seen strolling the sidewalks soliciting business without fear of police interference.

Sarkozy has said his bill is necessary to "guarantee the security of the French people," and said it addresses the concerns of French citizens who feel ignored by an inattentive government.

But protestors contend the measures measures will only penalize the victims of prostitution — the prostitutes themselves — without addressing the underlying cause.

"It is a law that is repressive in every respect," said Josiane Ceret, of the Women's Rights Collective, a feminist group. "It won't solve the problem — it'll just hide it."

Instead of increasing the prosecution of prostitutes, the group said the government should try to treat the causes, such as poverty, that drive women into the sex trade.

Increased crime was a major issue in the presidential and Parliamentary elections last spring. Sarkozy's bill, however, focuses heavily on areas not widely considered prime concerns.

For example, it calls for a six-month prison term and fine for "passive solicitation" by prostitutes, a vaguely defined term based on "their dress or their attitude."

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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Created: November 14, 2002
Last modified: November 15, 2002
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