Paris hosts Snap!, its first sex work festival. From Nov 2 to 4, numerous events, talks, performances and exhibitions will be devoted to the subject. Sex workers from prostitution and pornography, but also from webcam services, live shows and from the field of BDSM related services, joined forces and organized a cheerful festival to provide information and make their profession visible. In a country in which numerous laws are directed against a more normal unfolding of sex work, such a festival is of particular importance. All the more so as the whiff of reactionary politics seems to be sweeping across the globe.
The Snap! festival started on Friday in Paris. The aim of the event is above all to make sex workers and their problems that have been pushed to the margins of society in France heard again. The festival also aims to draw attention to the consequences of a law that makes life more difficult for sex workers and hinders the self-determined, free exercise of their profession but also of sexuality itself.
The passing of a law in France two years ago to punish the clients of sex workers is one of the most controversial ideas to curb prostitution. Under the pretext of protecting sex workers, customers are being criminalized, which inevitably leads to obscured business practices and thus the potential for cover-up crimes and violence.
Critics say that the real goal of such approaches is not to protect sex workers, but to hinder their work and to contain and successively combat prostitution.
The first attempt at resisting the current law had already been made by French sex workers at a demonstration on 14 April. Now the Snap!-Festival will be added in the growing chorus of a broadening opposition. Between November 2 and 4 there will be events, movie screenings, educational programs and exhibitions on BDSM, prostitution, sexcam work and pornography. The organizers will as a matter of principle place prostitution within the larger framework of sex work and thus raise the question of what makes this form of sex work so special.
The festival takes place a few months after the murder of a transgender prostitute who was killed trying to protect one of her clients against thieves. The case was seen by sex workers and their interest groups as a symbol of how the laws against sex workers’ clients are also directed against sex workers themselves and put them in a state of jeopardy.
The effect of the law is multifaceted. The criminalization of clients, who have to reckon with a fine of 1,500 euros if they use the services of sex workers, has indeed led to a reduction in the number of customers. For many sex workers, however, this means that they have difficulties due to the low demand.
Studies by sociologists Calogero Giametta and Hélène Le Bail show that legislation has led to an »increase in precarious living conditions« among sex workers. In addition, there are negative consequences for »the physical and mental health of sex workers … because they sometimes have to accept practices they would not offer if they had enough customers.«
Furthermore, Giametta said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, the law leads to a further stigmatization of sex work and thus to social discrimination. In other words: sex workers are systematically discriminated against.
This can also be seen at the local level throughout France. Giamatta says: »Many mayors are creating statutes against sex work, all under the guise of restoring public peace. They call on the police to strengthen identity checks on people with a migrant background.«
This shows once again that restrictions on freedom and attacks on minorities of any kind always have a far-reaching overall effect and should not be accepted in any area. The festival and the united efforts of all sex workers do want to express exactly that.
For Daniel Hellmann, Snap! is important in this respect as well. He is a sex worker from Switzerland and gives a presentation of his work during the festival. »Prejudices can be overcome through encounters with us. Through these conversations, people realize that what separates us is not so great. There are thousands of reasons why people can have sex: for pleasure, for economic reasons, in marriage, etc.«
In addition to the many conversations and information, the festival also aims to underline the artistic and entertaining aspect of sex work. Luca Stevenson says: »Our community has long been using films, music and shows to provide the public with an insight into our profession. But this festival gives us the opportunity to showcase all these works in context and celebrate ourselves, something that strengthens our community.«
At several events, however, global developments will also be addressed. Through the rise of conservative, restrictive and sometimes even openly fascist forces in many Western nations, the achievements of free societies in terms of sex and self-determination are endangered in all areas if life. Brazil will now be the second major country after the USA to tilt the political power structure of its continent towards fascism and against freedom and minority rights. The newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, announced that he will use violence against his opponents. Observers assume that numerous civil rights and freedoms will be restricted or abolished under the guise of fighting corruption and crime.
The solidarity of sex workers in France should therefore be seen as a kick-off to a global awareness that not only this industry but also the DNA of our community is in danger.
You can find the programme of the festival in Paris here.