Liberal prostitution laws make Switzerland trafficking hub


It is 8am and the rain is coming down in sheets.

The streets are empty except for a dozen women and their pimps – women from some of the world’s poorest regions including Moldova, Romania, West Africa and Southeast Asia.

Some are still in their teens.

Not far away are numerous massage parlors and saunas offering women and girls for sale.

There is a ‘drive-through’ brothel and, in 2016, a local businessman applied to the city authorities for a license to open a “fellatio cafe”.

The cafe has yet to open, but the application stated that for 50 Swiss francs (£40), customers would be able to choose a woman from photographs on an iPad menu, before ordering sex with their cappuccino.

This is not Amsterdam or a seedy quarter of one Asia’s megacities.

It is Geneva, Switzerland, home to the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross and countless other UN bodies and NGOs dedicated to humanitarian causes.

Human trafficking and modern slavery are supposed to be what they are fighting against.

Yet here it is happening at scale right under their noses.

Switzerland is a primary (as opposed to a transit) destination for women being trafficked into the sex trade.

Victims originate mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, but also from Thailand, Nigeria, China, Brazil, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic and Morocco.

Although trafficking is illegal, the fuel for it – prostitution – is not. Until 2013, it was perfectly legal here to pay for sex with 16-year-old girls. Now it’s 18 and the trade is booming.

According to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), an international NGO, around 14,000 women are currently selling sex in Switzerland, with approximately 70 per cent coming outside the famously conservative nation.

Prosecutions are rare but two years ago a woman was convicted of trafficking 80 Thai women into Switzerland who were sent to brothels in Bern, Solothurn, Lucerne, Basel, St. Gallen and Zurich.

Like hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, they were kept under lock and key and forced to service local men to pay off their “travel debt”.

One who, aged 20, was taken from her home in Romania into a brothel in Basel and who now volunteers for an NGO in Zurich said she had been regularly beaten.

“The men in Switzerland are much richer and more educated than our men, but [they] are the same with us. They abuse us and think they can because they pay.”

The country’s willingness to see women trafficked and sold on its streets in broad daylight flies in the face of its reputation as a place of sanctuary.

A retired British police officer who until recently worked as a consultant for an anti-trafficking organisation, knows Geneva well and has led a number of operations to disrupt international trafficking in Europe. Continue reading

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