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Geneva prostitutes come in from the cold

Brothels in Amsterdam are serving as a model for Geneva's new Sex Centre

(Keystone)

Prostitutes in Geneva are being given the chance to work in the comfort and warmth of a new "Sex Centre" rather than walk the streets in search of business.

The Sex Centre is based on the system in the Netherlands, where prostitutes quite literally place themselves in shop windows. However, the practice has been amended for the more straight-laced people of Geneva.

Like prostitutes in Amsterdam, the ladies working in the centre attract passers-by from behind glass. But their shop windows do not look out onto the street because this is illegal in Geneva. Ironically, touting for business on the street is not.

The centre is to be found in the Pâquis district of Geneva, five minutes' walk from the main railway station and the lakefront.

Potential clients have to enter the centre, and walk down a corridor, where they can look at the girls in cubicles and decide which one they fancy. Each booth is equipped with a bed, a stool and a television.

The owners of the Sex Centre, Eric Béguelin and Jerôme Ritter, believe the concept will be popular both among prostitutes and their clients.

"In these rooms, the girls can be out of the cold," Béguelin says. "They don't have to put up with aggression and people screaming insults at them. We take great care to ensure the place is comfortable and clean."

He adds that bedding and towels are changed several times a day, and showers and condoms are provided for the girls.

Béguelin says he and Ritter are just letting agents and that the girls are independent. They rent the booths for SFr500 ($295) a week and set their own prices. All are Swiss nationals or foreigners with long-term residency permits. So far 15 have taken up the chance to use the centre.

Béguelin says the only complaints he has received are from prostitutes working on the streets.

"The authorities have said nothing because we're doing nothing illegal. And the people who live around here are happy because it's more discreet; there are fewer prostitutes soliciting in public. It's not nice seeing half-naked women on the street," Béguelin says.

The Swiss may have a prudish, conservative reputation, but Béguelin, who has plans to open similar centres in Lausanne, Zurich and Bern, believes they are ready for his sex empire.

"Swiss people like sex, too. Ten years ago, when I started this business, people were very timid. But now they are much more open, there's a real demand for this kind of business," he says.

Nevertheless, he believes that tourists will make up a large part of the clientele.

"Perhaps in 10 years, when others have copied me, Geneva will be a sex capital like Amsterdam," says Béguelin.

by Roy Probert

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