PARIS — The group of transgender prostitutes working in the Bois de Boulogne, a wooded park in western Paris, had a rallying cry for when they needed help. “¡Todas!” they would shout. “Everyone!”
It was a call for help the Latin American prostitutes knew all too well, and one they heard one night in mid-August, when Vanesa Campos, 36, a Peruvian working in the area, was shot and killed as thieves tried to rob her client, who survived.
For many prostitutes in France, the death of Campos is proof of the growing dangers they face since Parliament passed a law in April 2016 penalizing those who pay for sex rather than those who provide it.
A prostitute’s clients now face fines of up to 1,500 euros, or about $1,750, and about 2,800 people have been charged, according to the Interior Ministry.
The law, adopted under former President François Hollande, was intended to discourage prostitution while increasing the safety of prostitutes. Instead, many prostitutes argue, it has made things considerably more dangerous.
One of the reasons for the increased exposure to violence, prostitutes say, is clients now demand to have sex in out of the way places, where police are unlikely to be patrolling.
Five people have been charged with homicide and robbery in Campos’ case.
Forty-two percent of prostitutes in France say they have been exposed to far more violence since the 2016 law took effect, according to a survey of 583 prostitutes conducted this year for Médecins du Monde and other nongovernmental organizations.
Thierry Schaffauser, president of Strass, a union of prostitutes in France, advocates the decriminalization of prostitution for both those who buy and sell sexual acts, arguing that doing so is the only way to protect prostitutes from violence, rape and trafficking.
After Campos’ death, France’s junior minister for gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, asked two government organizations to investigate ways to reduce violence against prostitutes. In a brief statement on Twitter, she condemned all forms of sexual violence, but did not mention the law.