PARIS (AP) — France's government is pushing one of Europe's toughest laws against prostitution and sex trafficking, and other countries are watching closely. Advocates hope that a draft French law going to parliament Wednesday will help change long-held attitudes toward the world's oldest profession — by punishing the customer and protecting the prostitute.
The bill, however, is facing resistance in a country with a libertine reputation and a Mediterranean macho streak, and has prompted petitions defending those who buy sex. Signatories include screen icon Catherine Deneuve —who played a prostitute in the cult film "Belle de Jour" — and crooner Charles Aznavour.
Prostitution is currently legal in France, but brothels, pimping and soliciting in public are illegal.
The bill has prompted debate about sex and sexism in France, where former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is facing charges of aggravated pimping. He denies wrongdoing, though his lawyer has defended Strauss-Kahn's free-wheeling sex life.
It has also called attention to the evolution of the sex business, as the number of foreign prostitutes, especially from Asia and eastern Europe, has soared in recent years.
When you think of settings for porn shoots, you usually think of a dingy soundstage with a lice-ridden mattress in the corner, or a fluorescent-lit, all-white living room in some sketchy producer's San Fernando Valley home. You usually don't think of eighteenth-century Parisian burial grounds.
Yet if reports from the Local, an English-language French newspaper, are to be trusted, that's exactly where scores of enterprising smut peddlars are headed. Recently, the historic Catacombs of Paris has become a popular destination for adult filmmakers, models, and photographers, who are heading sixty feet underground to shoot against the backdrop of millions of human skulls and skeletons.
A spokesman for the Musee Carnavelet, the company that manages the catacombs, says that they receive at least one request for permission to film or take photos there every week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are not at all pleased with this trend.
“Obviously, we say no. This is a sacred place, which houses the remains of six million Parisians. We only allow serious or scientific documentaries,” the spokesman said.