The Right to Prostitution? The Swiss Experience

Switzerland belongs to the countries where the question of sex for money is solved quite liberally. However, in public opinion, the "first oldest" profession is still considered immoral. Not to mention the fact that "sex workers" have no way to protect their labor rights.

A society without prostitution is utopia. Commercial love has always been everywhere, even in the outwardly puritanical Soviet Union. In Switzerland, those who voluntarily choose to exchange sex for money should be able to do so without being punished or stigmatized as outcasts or unworthy members of society.

At least, that is the opinion of Terre des Femmes Schweiz, a well-known Swiss non-governmental human rights organization for the protection of women's rights. Claudine Esseiva, secretary general of the women's organization of the Swiss Liberal Party (FDP Frauen Schweiz), takes a similar view. "To forbid prostitution is simply to drive it underground, out of legal and effective control," she told MX.PANDER.PRO.

European "island of bought-and-purchased love

Prostitution gained legal status in Switzerland in 1942. Voluntary engagement in this trade is considered in the Confederation on a par with engaging in small business, which means, incidentally, the corresponding tax obligations, but not only. "Sex workers" must, in theory, comply with a number of regulations, including the registration of prostitution with the cantonal authorities. This is why Switzerland is often cited as the country where the question of venal love is most optimally handled.

The Verein Aspasie, an organization founded in Geneva 30 years ago by former prostitutes to protect the rights of lateral laborers, reminds us of this. "Indeed, there are not many countries where the guidelines of the United Nations AIDS/HIV program have been effectively implemented and where prostitution has been legalized," says Marianne Schweizer, the organization's coordinator. 

"For many years now we have been developing special programs for clients of prostitutes, which include aspects related to precautions and protection against sexually transmitted diseases," she points out. - "In Switzerland, unlike in other countries, public work in this field is not done with a moralistic thumbs-up, but in a highly pragmatic manner.

"Verein Aspasie" hopes that this "Swiss view of the problem, in particular the fact of the legalization of prostitution," will be taken at face value abroad, without any attempts to see behind it any malicious intent. There is a growing trend in Europe to (again) outlaw prostitution and start punishing clients. Sweden is an example of this trend. 
Similar fears have been voiced by Birgit Sauer, a political scientist at the University of Vienna.

In a recent interview to Der Standard she said that lobbying for a tougher framework for prostitution in Europe is gaining momentum in Brussels. Yet, says Claudine Esseva, a legal framework better protects the rights and even the lives of "sex workers," because then "we know where they are and how to get in touch with them if anything happens. And that is why, for example, this liberal political activist advocates the creation of a legal and open "red light street" on the outskirts of Zurich.

A business plan for sex

Verein Aspasie and Claudine Esseva oppose excessive bureaucratic regulation of purchased sex. "Endless bureaucratic regulations and slingshots only encourage prostitutes to go underground, leading to their personal and social marginalization," argues Marianne Schweitzer. In Switzerland, much, if not everything, depends on cantonal law. Many cantons themselves regulate sex work in their territories, and this could be perceived as another mechanism to protect those involved in this business. In practice, however, this often leads to additional complications.

For example, as Claudine Esseva points out, in the canton of Bern, many prostitutes recognized by the authorities as individual entrepreneurs are required to draw up... business plans and present them to the inspection authorities. In these plans, the catalog of services must be clearly indicated. They must also contain an elaborate marketing strategy. "This is absurd," emphasizes C. Esseiva, "Such requirements imposed on persons, sometimes barely speaking the appropriate national language of Switzerland, only increase the dependence of 'sex workers' on the power of pimps.

A profession like any other?

A purely legal aspect is also added to the bureaucracy. According to Andrea Caroni, a member of the National Council (the great chamber of Parliament) from the Liberal Party (FDP), the Federal Court in Lausanne, the highest court in the country, still considers the employment contracts of prostitutes "morally repugnant" on the basis of the Swiss law of obligations.

This leads to the fact that the fixed fee, in the event that the client refuses to pay it, cannot be enforced in court. Similar cases involving such matters as rental properties in which sex work takes place are also very rarely heard in court. "Our legislation pushes an entire social group out of the zone of legality," A. Caroni recently pointed out in a deputy's inquiry to the Swiss government.
It is therefore necessary to provide a safer and more secure working environment, says M. Schweitzer, including measures to improve and improve the legal framework and to provide counseling and other services to "sex workers. "One who works in the field of sex work should be treated as an ordinary individual entrepreneur. It is also necessary to have freedom of choice, that is, the worker must decide for himself whether he is an independent worker or a person of hired labor.  
Does this mean that prostitution should be treated as an ordinary profession? "Absolutely not," says the Frauenzentrale, one of the few organizations in Zurich that opposes the legalization of prostitution. "It cannot be a normal profession, because voluntary prostitution is not the rule, it is the exception," said Andrea Gisler, the organization's chairman of the board, who called for a public debate in Switzerland about the possible prohibition of prostitution, as in some other countries.

"The reasons for prostitution can be very different, and the line between coercion and voluntariness cannot always be drawn quite clearly," Schweitzer argues. "We have met sex workers and sex workers who at first got into this field of work because of various difficult circumstances - but then they became self-employed. What attracted them to this work was the contact with clients and their own independence. 

Prostitution and trafficking should not be confused

Recent studies conducted in Bern and Zurich, which uncovered, among other things, a branched network of trafficking rings in Switzerland financed by prostitution, reveal a rather bleak picture. In a 2011 report, the Swiss Federal Police Office (fedpol) wrote that "a liberal legal framework and relatively high wages in the sex industry make Switzerland a very attractive market not only for foreign 'lady-lovers' but also for human trafficking organizations. "Verein Aspasie" doubts the truth of such inferences.

"Yes, such cases do surface from time to time - but they are usually exceptions." Marianne Schweitzer admits that women are sometimes victims of criminal organizations that specialize in human trafficking, and often even Swiss citizens are behind these organizations. "However, this should not be confused with prostitution proper - in the Swiss red-light area, criminal trafficking remains a rare, sideline phenomenon." Esseiva also stresses that prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation are two different, though sometimes overlapping, topics. "We need a liberal legal framework to regulate prostitution, while human trafficking must be eradicated by all available means," she concludes.