France just made it illegal to pay for sex, despite selling it remaining legal, the New York Times reports. According to the BBC, the law passed Wednesday creates punishments including fines up to $4,300 and classes about the horrors of prostitution for anyone caught buying sex. Supporters of the law, which overturns a 2003 law that put legal responsibility on the sex seller, say it will make sex workers safer, and France's prime minister calls it a victory for women's rights. One women's rights activist says sex workers can now call the police for help without fear of punishment. The AP reports the law will also let foreign sex workers in France get temporary resident papers if they leave prostitution. One lawmaker says 85% of prostitutes in France are the victims of human trafficking.
But sex workers protested against the law during its final debate. In addition to the new law potentially making it harder for them to make a living, many sex workers and advocates say it actually puts them in danger. One opponent says the law will make johns hide their identities, which makes it easier for them to hurt sex workers. Others say sex workers will now be asked to meet johns in private at their homes instead of a safer place. Opponents claim it will also stop johns from seeking help when they fear a sex worker is being harmed. There are an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 sex workers in France, where prostitution remains legal. A number of other European countries have introduced similar laws since 1999, but France's law includes some of the toughest penalties for buying sex in Europe. (Read more prostitution stories.)