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.


Mandatory contact tracing in Zurich brothels stirs controversy

A lawyer for the Zurich sex industry is taking legal action against new tracing rules being implemented for prostitutes working in the Swiss canton.

Mandatory contact tracing in Zurich brothels stirs controversy
A prostitute walks by 'sex boxes' which Zurich set for their safety. Photo by AFP

Starting on October 1st, Zurich has mandated stricter protection rules in the brothels.

Sex workers must now not only collect their customers’ ID and contact details, but also check on the spot whether the cell phone numbers provided by the clients are correct.

But Valentin Landmann, a legal counsel for Zurich’s sex work industry, filed an appeal against the new regulations, claiming they “violate the principle of equality”.

“These conditions are more extreme than in any other profession involving physical contact”, he told SRF television in an interview.

Landmann added that stricter measures are not necessary in the sex trade.

“The normal protection concepts are already being observed. So far, there have been no coronavirus cases in legal companies”.

However, Zurich authorities see it differently.

The cantonal director of security Mario Fehr told SRF that the new measures are necessary to ensure effective contact tracing, so that clients can be informed in case a coronavirus infection occurs in the brothel.

He added that if establishments fail to adhere to the requirements “we will close these businesses”.

READ MORE: Five things about Switzerland that may surprise foreign residents 

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and considered as a ‘regular’ service industry, with the same rights and obligations as other sectors, including declaring income and paying taxes.

In May, the brothels implemented safety rules for workers and clients to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections. 

The measures include ventilation in rooms, the use of gloves, condoms and disinfectants, and washing of sheets after each client. 

Also, sessions should be kept to a maximum of 15 minutes, and kissing – which was already rare before the measures came into place – is strongly discouraged.