The Swiss Government Says It Does Not Support Criminalisation

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Europe Regional Correspondent
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The Swiss government has said that it is opposed to any new measures that would criminalise prostitution or the purchase of commercial services. A report from the Federal Office of Police had been ordered by the cabinet after members of parliament had brought up sex work issues—as is the current climate in Europe, with proposed or recently passed new sex work legislation currently on the table in Northern Ireland, France and Scotland.

In a statement the government referenced the situation in Sweden where the purchase of sexual services is outlawed and said that experience from abroad shows that a ban on prostitution is not the solution and that studies from other countries have shown that this usually leads to the criminalisation of sex workers or sex workers going underground.

The example of the Swedish Model, the report said, shows that “a country follows an approach based on its idea of people and society which could not be used in Switzerland without being adapted”.

The report also said that is also difficult to fully estimate the extent of prostitution and human trafficking with the intent to sexually exploit victims in Switzerland because there are no reliable figures.

Ideas mooted within the report include increasing access to health services for sex workers and better legal protection for sex workers, for which each canton (member state) would be responsible, although these points did not appear to be fully fleshed out. Ominously, however, these suggestions were made within the context of “reducing, or at least not encouraging, prostitution”.

While prostitution is legal in Switzerland, working in the streets is not and various measures have been taken to clamp down on sex workers in public areas. In 2001 Ticino became the first canton to outlaw prostitution in areas that ‘compromise public order’. In 2013, Zürich authorities opened Europe's first municipal drive-in brothel in an old industrial area in the west of the city. Sex workers who agreed to relocate from the city-centre were permitted to work at the brothel without intrusion—albeit not before obtaining a permit and paying tax.

"The new regulation of street prostitution has attained its objectives of protecting the population and the sex workers," the city said in a statement made one year after the scheme was launched, which they declared a success, noting that there had been no increase in street-based workers in the two other districts of the city where prostitution was tolerated. “The new regulation of street prostitution has attained its objectives of protecting the population and the sex workers,” they added.

However, some sex workers complained that their earnings had fallen and that they were too far from city-centre bars and nightclubs. A spokesperson for NSWP member group the Sex Worker Open University told MailOnline that the initiative had its problems.

“Any initiative that truly makes selling sex safer would be welcome, but the "cleaning up" of areas where people engage in commercial sex is often in the interests of the public rather than the sex worker, who is often made more vulnerable by losing earnings and being "tucked away" out of sight,” she said.

“Sex worker rights advocates all over the world along with organisations such as World Health Organization, and UN Women all agree that full decriminalisation, rather than Swiss-style regulation and licensing, is the best human-rights based approach to keeping sex workers safe.”