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Swiss court ruling gives protection to sex workers

Niederdorf area in Zurich
Red light area in Niederdorf in Zurich Keystone / Alessandro Della Bella

A top Swiss court has confirmed a fraud conviction for a client of a prostitute who left without paying. This is being hailed as a significant change in case law for sex workers, who have gained the protection of the criminal justice system.

The man had argued on appeal that the immoral nature of prostitution absolved him from criminal wrongdoing. But the Federal Administrative Court in St. Gallen on Thursday confirmed a suspended 50-day sentence and fine of CHF300 ($333).

Rebecca Angelini, co-director of the ProCore network which defends rights of sex workers, hailed the decision as “groundbreaking”. Up to now, if a client did not want to pay, sex workers could not sue “because the justice system considered that agreements between them and clients were immoral and therefore invalid”, she explained on national Swiss broadcaster RTSExternal link on Friday.

The wages of sex workers were therefore not legally protected, even though they have to pay tax and social security contributions and comply with the requirements of the authorities.

In Switzerland, prostitution has been legal since 1942. When carried out voluntarily, it is considered a form of independent economic activity. 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.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR