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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. 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.
She and others working in the park that night had rushed to help Ms. Campos, but were forced to retreat when they heard shots being fired. For many prostitutes in France, the death of Ms. Campos is proof of the growing dangers they face since Parliament passed a law in April penalizing those who pay for sex rather than those who provide it. 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 the police are unlikely to be patrolling.
There are about 30, prostitutes in France, according to government estimates , and 93 percent are foreigners. Campos was part of a subset of transgender Latin American prostitutes that arose in the Bois de Boulogne over the past two years, and her colleagues say that the isolated spot where she worked made her an easy target for a group of thieves who have repeatedly attacked them and their clients.
Five people have been charged with homicide and robbery in Ms. For some, her death highlighted how little attention is given to violence against prostitutes. A prostitute who dies is a bit like a person being killed in a video game. In the western city of Nantes, prostitutes surveyed for the report said they now accepted clients they used to blacklist. Some in the port city of Marseille said they worked in the darkness of construction tubes to reduce the chances of their clients being discovered.
Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said it was increasingly difficult to demand the use of a condom. Schaffauser of the Strass union advocates the decriminalization of prostitution for both those who buy and sell sexual acts, arguing that doing so is the only way to protect sex workers, the term he prefers, from violence, rape and trafficking. They argue that the measure infringes on the rights of prostitutes, in addition to reducing their income and forcing them to work in more dangerous circumstances and locations.