Prostitution policy: Nordic Model

LOI n° 2016-444 du 13 avril 2016 visant à renforcer la lutte contre le système prostitutionnel et à accompagner les personnes prostituées

Prostitution is not illegal in France despite the April 2016 law which prohibits the purchase of sexual services. Many prostitution-related activities remain illegal, such as procuring, brokering or prostitution of minors.

Since the law No. 2016-444 of 13 April 2016, France has chosen to penalize customers, rather than prostitutes, who are now offered various measures to accompany them to get out of prostitution if they so request.

Estimate of the economic and social cost of prostitution in France – May 2015

France Prostitution Policy Nordic Model ProsCost
France Prostitution Policy Nordic Model ProsCost

In 2014, the European Commission offered for the Member States of the European Union to increase their «national wealth» by including the turnover from prostitution in the calculation of their GDP. In France, INSEE refused to implement the European request and explained, rightly so, that prostitution was not so much a «provision of freely consented services» as an exploitation of people in the most precarious of situations.
ProstCost, a previously unpublished study carried out by the Mouvement du Nid – France and Psytel, questions this myth of prostitution as a vector of growth and provides an estimate of the twofold economic and social burden which the prostitutional system imposes on its victims and on society as a whole.

After 18 months of research, both entities are pleased to present the results in this summary. Our calculation of the economic and social cost of prostitution in France is based on two estimates:
An estimate of the number of prostitutes in France
Recent studies and parliamentary reports have all highlighted the difficulty in estimating the number of prostitutes in France. Our research has enabled us to put forward a documented estimate of 37,000 prostitutes, with a low hypothesis of 30,000 and a high hypothesis of 44,000 prostitutes.
The identification of 29 “cost items” and an estimate of their value, the total figure equalling 1.6 billion Euro


by Marie-Anne Frison-Roche
Feb 1, 2019 – The Constitutional Council today validates the law prohibiting prostitution and as such penalizing customers with a 5th category offense.

Yet many had joined forces through a Priority Constitutional Question (QPC), claiming that this 2016 law should be destroyed.

And the question of conformity or non-conformity with the Constitution had seemed sufficiently serious to the Council of State for it to transmit it to the Constitutional Council.

But that, by this very important decision, rendered on QPC, on February 1, 2019, Médecins du Monde and others (among the others, in particular the STRASS union…) posited that the law is in conformity with the Constitution.

However, the applicants had argued that this is contrary to the freedom of human beings, who must be able to do what they want (to prostitute themselves if I want to, to prostitute themselves is a profession like any other, etc.), and that this is would be contrary to freedom in general and to freedom of enterprise more particularly. Moreover, the applicants stressed that these sexual relations took place between “consenting adults” and in non-public places and that the right to privacy, of constitutional value, was also violated.

It did not hold.


First and foremost, because the Constitutional Council underlined that the will of the Legislator is not to fight against clients, nor against prostitutes, but against pimping, and that as such they are the victims and not the actors who exercise their freedom.

The Council does so in these terms: the purpose of the law is to fight against procuring “by depriving procuring of sources of profit, to fight against this activity and against trafficking in human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation, criminal activities based on the constraint and the enslavement of the human being. It thus intended to ensure the safeguard of the dignity of the human person against these forms of enslavement”.

Secondly, “privacy” and the fact that the exploitation takes place behind closed doors does not have to stop the Legislator. The Council expresses it in these terms: “If the legislator has repressed any recourse to prostitution, including when the sexual acts are presented as carried out freely between consenting adults in a private space, it considered that, in their very great majority, people who engage in prostitution are victims of procuring and trafficking and that these offenses are made possible by the “existence of a demand for paid sex”.

This is a very important decision, especially for two points:

First of all, the Constitutional Council rejects the idea that “consent” is the basis of our legal system. Indeed, prostitutes consent to these tariffed relationships; as the council perfectly writes, they respond to demand. There is a “market”, with a “demand for priced sex” and they “respond” to it, for the great wealth of intermediaries. The state is entitled to protect them from this, including when they “consent.”

Why is it legitimate there, through a public policy which can take the “proportionate” form of a 5th category fine for the customer?

Because prostitution is an “attack on human dignity”.

Secondly, the Constitutional Council takes as its foundation the very one of the law of 2016 to which it refers: human dignity. And he gives it an “objective definition”. Indeed, we tend to give human dignity a “subjective definition”, each defining for himself his dignity (“to each his dignity”, to paraphrase the author…), which allows him to no longer claim it, if the person wants it: it is an extremely liberal conception: the freedom of the person would be so great that he can renounce his dignity, in defining it itself. For example by selling itself.

The companies which intend to build markets for human beings, prostitution being one of the forms, are very favorable to this “subjective definition” of dignity. Of course.

The Constitutional Council here gives an objective definition. In this, of itself, it is opposed to the prospect of a market for human beings. The law protects prostitutes so that there is no more “demand” (the penalization of the client being therefore the means and not the goal), and therefore no more “market”, and therefore more victims than prostitutes, because the sale of sexual services is objectively contrary to their dignity, and this even if it is a relationship “between consenting adults”.

The Constitutional Council thus clearly shows that “consent” cannot modify – that is to say weaken human dignity.