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Geneva sex workers set to form union

More than 150 prostitutes in Geneva are planning to form a trade union, in what would be a first for Switzerland.

Geneva sex workers set to form union
Photo: Joshua Rindner (File)

The sex workers plan to hold a general assembly next week to create the union of sex workers of both sexes (STTS), the French-language newspaper Le Courrier reports.

The drive to create the union comes from a group of prostitutes in the Pâquis neighbourhood, famous for its night life and clubs, the newspaper said.

The planned goal of the union is to defend the interests of sex workers in Geneva and elsewhere in French-speaking Switzerland and to lobby for changes to the law governing prostitution.

Among their aims, the sex workers say they want to battle steep prices for renting rooms, as well as combating unfair competition, and working to improve safety.

One of the organizers of the proposed union is a Colombian woman identified as Angelina, who has worked as a prostitute in Geneva for several years.

She was prompted to act a year ago when the right-wing Swiss People’s Party in Geneva  proposed a law to ban prostitution in the vicinity of schools.

“We have wanted for a long time to become an official body in the eyes of politicians and justice authorities,” Angelina told Le Courrier.

Last year she joined Aspasie, a group set up in 1982 to deal with health issues and discrimination in the sex trade before deciding that further steps were needed.

Some prostitutes pay 3,000 francs ($3,100) a month for a small room, or 150 francs a day for a kitchen reorganized as a bedroom, sometimes more, Angelina said.

Sex workers are in a difficult position when dealing with landlords because they face being turfed out on the street, she added.

In addition to independent prostitutes, there are those who work in “salons” owned by people who procure clients and provide rooms.

The union organizer said people who work in such places face a range of different challenges.

They can be forced to perform acts against their will, including dangerous activities without the use of condoms, she said.

Geneva counts 800 to 900 prostitutes, according to estimates, around five percent of whom are male.

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PROSTITUTION

Sex workers renting Airbnb apartments in Swiss capital: report

More and more sex workers in Bern are renting apartments through apartment sites like Airbnb or using hotel rooms to carry out their business, according to a new report on prostitution in the Swiss capital.

Sex workers renting Airbnb apartments in Swiss capital: report
File photo: Depositphotos

Prostitution is Switzerland with sex workers required to register with local authorities and pay taxes.

But while Bern is currently home to 28 licensed brothels, this number is sinking and there is growing opposition to plans for new establishments.

At the same time, there is a rise in the number of sex workers temporarily renting out apartments using sites like Airbnb, as Bern daily newspaper Der Bund reports.

Read also: Zurich's 'sex boxes' for prostitutes given official thumbs up

There were 12 reported cases in the canton of Bern from April 2017 to April 2018, although the real number is thought to be much higher.

A police spokesperson described the figure as “insignificant” and noted that most of the women involved lacked the necessary work and residence permits required to work in a legal establishment.

But Bern cantonal parliamentarian Christa Ammann, who heads up a specialist unit conducting research into the sex industry, says rules introduced in 2013 requiring brothels to register have made sex work more expensive.

The latest annual report into sex work in the city notes prostitutes are required from 100 to 150 Swiss francs a day to rent a room in a legal brothel. However, there are dozens of apartments listed on Airbnb for less than this amount.

The trend towards the use of private apartments for sex work runs counter to the intention of rule changes in Bern in 2013 which are designed to protect prostitutes from abuse and exploitation.

Read also: Eighty Thai women forced into prostitution in Switzerland

But despite this tendency, police are positive about the new rules, arguing “the situation has completely calmed down” and that authorities now have much tighter control.

Ammann, meanwhile, is calling for prostitution to be completely decriminalized.

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland although individual cantons have different rules on where and when it can be practised. Forcing someone into prostitution is, however, illegal.

Recently, a women's rights group in Zurich called for a Swedish-style ban on sex work in Switzerland, using the video above in its campaign. In the Scandinavian country, it is illegal to pay for sex with clients.

But groups in Switzerland including the Swiss Aids Federation have said such a ban on prostitution would drive sex work underground and make the fight against exploitation of women even more difficult.