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Switzerland is one of the most liberal countries when it comes to prostitution. To imagine a society without prostitution is utopian. Those who are willing to offer their own bodies in exchange for money must be allowed to do so without being stigmatised or punished.
This is the view put forward by Terre des Femmes Switzerland, an organisation that campaigns for the rights of women. In Switzerland, prostitution has been legal since When carried out voluntarily, it is considered a form of independent economic activity and the proceeds are subject to tax. But those who do this need to have their papers in order, hold work or residence permits, and declare their occupation to the cantonal authorities. Switzerland is often held up as an example for Europe, notes the Aspasie group, created 30 years ago by a group of prostitutes in Geneva.
The idea of forbidding prostitution and punishing customers, as is done by Sweden, is gaining ground in Europe. Most of the pressure groups active in Brussels espouse the prohibitionist approach, as University of Vienna political scientist Birgit Sauer was quoted as saying a few months ago in the Austrian daily Der Standard.
While supportive of prostitution being legal in Switzerland, the groups active on the ground are opposed to excessive regulation of the sector. In canton Bern, Esseiva noted, prostitutes wanting to work independently have to present a business plan in which they are supposed to specify the kind of service provided and the marketing strategy. As a result, these people cannot claim the agreed remuneration in the courts, and disputes over rental of rooms or other such agreements rarely end up in court.
For Schweizer, there is a need for safer working conditions, action to improve the judicial framework and structures for assistance and consultation. They should be free to choose whether to work independently or for an employer. Should prostitution be considered an occupation like any other? An investigation carried out this spring in Zurich see sidebar and a recent series of raids by the Bern police which dismantled a large human trafficking network for the purposes of prostitution, suggest a rather dire situation.