Facing Crackdowns in the E.U., Hookers Find Sanctuary in Switzerland

The world’s oldest profession is now represented by a labor union in Geneva. It also has much more perks than the rest of Europe—or the world

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Vit Simanek / CTK / AP

Brothel in Prague, Czech Republic on May 10, 2012.

Geneva is one of the world’s most expensive cities, where a room in the center of town rents for $3,000 a month. Given such a steep price, what’s a working person to do?Fed up with the exorbitant rent she pays for her workspace, Geneva resident Angelina became proactive: last month, she formed a trade union for self-employed contractors like herself. The organization, the first of its kind in Switzerland, represents several hundred members of the world’s oldest profession: sex workers.

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A handful of European cities have similar unions, but since Switzerland has some of the most liberal prostitution laws in the world, it is a mecca for foreign sex workers, mostly from South America, Eastern Europe, and EU nations. The Sex Workers’ Syndicate, as the new union is called, will liaise with city authorities to improve work conditions and the earning potential of Geneva’s 800 registered prostitutes.

In the past several years, the number of “official” sex workers in the country has increased to 14,000, not including specially trained “sexual assistants” for disabled people. As other countries are cracking down on their sex industry–Amsterdam’s authorities are closing hundreds of notorious windows in its red-light district, and France’s new socialist government plans to outlaw prostitution – sex professionals are seeking better opportunities in Switzerland. Another perk is that citizens of European Union don’t need a work permit for the first three months, as long as they register with local police and comply with tax laws.

Affluent and willing customers are another incentive: according to Don Juan, an information health service for “consumers of sex,” one in five Swiss men between 20 and 65 – the second highest rate in Europe – visit a prostitute at least once in their lives.

That may be why the Swiss have taken a pragmatic approach to prostitution: legalize it and bring it out into the open, so it can be regulated and controlled to prevent exploitation, human trafficking, sexually transmitted diseases, links with criminal networks, and other problems that are rife in nations where sex commerce is forbidden.

As a result of this liberal policy, there is no stigma attached to sex work in Switzerland; in fact, it is considered a legitimate service industry, whose members pay taxes and contribute to their Social Security funds. But unlike their counterparts in other sectors, they must register with public health authorities and undergo regular health checks. “We’ve always tried to create a welcoming and safe environment for legal sex workers,” Patrick Pulh, a spokesman for Geneva’s police force tells TIME.

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Angelina, who uses only one name professionally, hails from Colombia and has been plying her trade in Geneva for the past six years. She says that local prostitutes have mostly positive interactions with the law enforcement. But despite Switzerland’s protections, she says that sex work is not easy street: unscrupulous landlords charge extremely high rents for premises in the city’s red-light district of Paquis. Another common complaint is the unfair competition from undocumented foreign prostitutes who undercut the official minimum rate of $100 for basic services. “These girls charge less but also have lower standards,” Angelina claims. “The livelihood of those who work legally is impacted, and so is the quality of service clients receive from the ‘cheaper’ women.”

Similar complaints have been voiced in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city and undisputed sex capital, where, according to police figures, there are 11 prostitutes per 1,000 residents – one of the highest ratios in the industrialized world. It is no secret that the city’s largest brothel is owned by a local politician, a member of the city council in the Zurich suburb of Uetikon. According to a recent article in the Tages Anzeiger newspaper, he charges sex workers just over $100 a day for rooms used for “erotic services.”

But Zurich prostitutes will soon have brand new digs. Next spring, the city will construct a series of drive-in garages on the outskirts of town, where sex workers can receive their clients discreetly, away from residential neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Zurich voters approved their municipal council’s proposal to build these so-called “sex boxes,” allocating $2.4 million of public funds for the project, which will be monitored by social services and offer on-site medical care.

Over in Geneva, Angelina has already used her new status as head of the union to set up an appointment with the mayor to discuss ways of improving the members’ work conditions, and especially the rent issue. She also plans to organize free French language courses for foreign sex workers “so that they can integrate and communicate with more ease.” Those are, apparently, union rules.

MORE: Why U.S. Tax Evaders Can No Longer Count on Swiss Secrecy

25 comments
MahfuzMunir-Khan
MahfuzMunir-Khan

swiss people speak german and italian too. anyway, this is stupid, she cant complain about crackhoes in a free market so long as there's kerb crawlers! it's up to the filthy punters if they want a posh one or not 

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

I have no idea but but why does IMF is all round the band on everything that is not the concern of IMF. Put simply we have leaders to take care of the country's economy  they have the sole duty to see that their state rund in the best manner but butting IMF keeps on coming telling how to do this is not practical  Will they tell China or India how to run the economy? Will India and China listen? I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

spwright1
spwright1

Wed. 10/10/12

Is  this Nation on the Secret Service Vacation List ? Look Out Girls these Guys will try to "Stiff Ya" amp; refuse to Pay for Your Services.

HOOKERS UNITE ! Stand Up for Your Rights ! Give Em Hell Girls

No Blow Jobs.

SPW in Alaska   "Airborne"

f_galton
f_galton

They stole the "sex boxes" idea from me, though to be fair, I stole the "cheese with holes" idea from them.

mhaggag
mhaggag

"Angelina has already used her new status as head of the union to set up an appointment with the mayor."Angelina will be wearing the Union uniform.Angelina will be whipping his buttocks.Angelina will be wearing black high heels, will stomp on the Mayor's forehead.Angelina rules.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

Now that it is cleared out that prostitution has nothing to do with cheating, Swiss laws are designed to reduce as much as possible abuse in the prostitution world, and they work extremely well, compared to any other country of the world.

The problem is not prostitution, the problem is the abuse of prostitutes, there where prostitution is illegal, because men willing to buy sex will exist no matter what and there always will be women who wants to make $$ without the need for much of an education, even though prostitution is all but easy.

When prostitution is illegal, then the controller is a criminal and abuse is the norm. 

Morals do not help in this case, what helps is a system that protect sex workers who will always exist, no matter what amount of wealth and education there is. 

Even when everyone is rich , there always will be someone who is willing to pay for sex and so there always will be someone willing to sell it.

Grow up moralists ... this is not about values, prostitution is about health care.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

Note about those who think prostitutes is the reason men cheat on their wives: men do no cheat on their wives with prostitutes, they cheat with other women, who are not prostitutes. Sex for business is not cheating, it's seeking what the wive is refusing to give .. so, yes, wives, you want to have a happy life? bang your man. You don't like intimacy ... screw you, do not complain if your man bangs a prostitute. 

It's that simple.

PS" I personally do not need to pay for sex ;-)

sweetsamuel
sweetsamuel

Prostitution is legal in the USA.  It's called lobbying.  

JonEberle
JonEberle

Families destroyed, diseases rampant, women objectified

jatindershoon
jatindershoon

Finally they are catching up with politicians,"THE PROFESSION IS BEING LEGALIZED." soon they will rule the ROADS.

Bjark
Bjark

Although I am against prostitution, Switzerland's approach to it is in many ways reasonable (much more so for instance than the Italian way of "prohibiting but tolerating" it). It should be noted however that Switzerland is a notorious patriarchy which laggs decades behind the rest of the Europe  when it comes to women's rights (in some areas women's rights to vote came as late as 1990).  My point being, it is important to realize that this 'prostitution friendly' system was developed in a very male dominating social environment. 

Brad Freisner
Brad Freisner

One of the safest nations also. U.S.A. needs to look towards nations that have their stuff together.

Eraldo Eraldo
Eraldo Eraldo

Les pays-bas et la belgique aussi :) on se régale bien :p

crazy american
crazy american

says whom? ur church? 

If this profession was  bad then how come there is a big demand for it.?

JonEberle
JonEberle

I'm not imposing my beliefs, I'm stating my opinion as an educated adult. 

D.L.  I understand that not everyone is married. That doesn't change the objectification of women that prostitution legalization instills into every man, woman, and especially children. Legalization sends a message that it is correct. I personally believe it is incorrect to treat women this way, even if a minority of women have no self-respect or dignity and allow themselves to be treated this way.

I do want to make it clear that I am not for criminalizing it (as that never works), but I don't think promotion of it is ok either.

JonEberle
JonEberle

Says me, the mature adult who has seen prostitution degrade women and destroy families. How do you think wives feel about their husbands sleeping with other women?  How do you think men would feel if their wives were out paying to have sex with other men?

Your argument is about as immature and silly as your post. Demand certainly does not equal validity. There are countless examples of that. 

CatNews
CatNews

This is not a matter of prostitution being moral or immoral. But it will exist whether it's legal or not (which is why it's the world's oldest profession). Isn't it better to legalize it and make sure these women (and men) are treated fairly, than close our eyes, pretend it doesn't exist, and allow brutal pimps to run the industry?

As for men cheating, that will happen whether prostitution is legal or not. That's the way it's always been.

crazy american
crazy american

and sir may I ask who you are?

if a country does not have any problem who on earth are u to impose ur beliefs?

D. L. Partyka
D. L. Partyka

Not everyone is married. But I'm sure your wife/girlfriend appreciates your comment and you got your brownie points.