Three men went on trial in Paris on Tuesday over the killing of a transgender prostitute three years ago that drew widespread attention to rising violence against sex workers in France.
Vanesa Campos, a 36-year-old originally from Peru, was fatally shot in the chest on the night of August 16-17, 2018, in a remote section of the Bois de Boulogne, the vast forest park west of the capital that has long been a sex work zone once night falls.
Police quickly focused on a group of around a dozen men of Egyptian origin, who had staged what prosecutors called a “punitive expedition” against Campos and others who had denounced repeated robberies and assaults against sex worker and their clients by armed gangs.
Just a month before her death, Campos was among a group who hired a guard to protect them while working among dense trees with no public lighting.
The assailants were armed with tear gas, tree branches, a knife, a stun gun, and a pistol that had been stolen a week earlier from a police car while the officer was with a prostitute.
Mahmoud Kadri, 24, suspected of shooting Campos, and two associates appeared in court on murder charges and told their lawyers via translators that they “formally denied” the accusations.
Six other men, ages 23 to 34, are charged with participating in the murder — five for taking part in the assault, and a sixth for stealing the pistol.
Campos’ mother and sister, who live in Peru, are civil plaintiffs in the case along with six of her former colleagues, the bodyguard, the Acceptess-T transgender advocacy association and the Mouvement du Nid sex worker support group.
Acceptess-T in particular argues that increased violence against prostitutes stems from a 2016 law making it illegal to buy sex in France but not to sell it, shifting the criminal responsibility to clients who can be fined if caught.
While some groups say the law helps protect women from trafficking and exploitation by discouraging sex work, many working in the sector say it has made their jobs more dangerous and deprived them of income.
The trial is expected to run until January 28.