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Swiss embassy takes action on women trafficking

Since the beginning of the nineties the number of Russian women working in Switzerland has increased significantly Keystone Archive

The Swiss embassy in Moscow has launched an information campaign to prevent women from being drawn into the sex industry in Switzerland.

This content was published on December 17, 2003 - 18:31

Since the collapse of communism the number of Russian women arriving in Switzerland each year to work as prostitutes or striptease dancers has increased significantly.

Under Swiss law, go-go or striptease dancing is the only type of work for which women from Eastern Europe can easily obtain a visa. Once in Switzerland the women often end up working illegally as prostitutes.

Ignorance and desperation

According to Tania Dussey-Cavassini of the Swiss embassy in Moscow, an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 women are trafficked into Switzerland annually and many of them do not know what they are letting themselves in for.

“Many of these women are so desperate about the situation in Russia that they don’t think about what could happen to them. About 80 per cent of the trafficked women have no idea that they’ll end up as prostitutes,” Dussey-Cavassini told swissinfo.

According to FIZ, a women’s information centre that helps women from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, female professionals in Ukraine and Russia face major unemployment and about 80 percent of all unemployed are women.

Don’t get hooked

To curb the trafficking of Russian women, the Swiss embassy has launched an information campaign and has started to do more thorough checks on women who apply for a tourist visa.

The embassy has put up posters in the waiting room that aim at raising awareness of the problem.

“Don’t get hooked, read the facts – take a brochure” reads the slogan. “In this way we try to tell the women about the potential dangers,” Dussey-Cavassini said.

Go-go dancers

Women from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia or Latin America are not legally allowed to work in Switzerland. However, they can obtain visas to work as go-go or striptease dancers.

These types of visa also exist in other European countries such as Italy, Austria and Germany. Although the contracts prohibit prostitution and encouraging prostitution, Doro Winkler of FIZ thinks these women often end up working in a brothel.

"The women get a visa, a contract and a salary and even though it is prohibited to work as a prostitute or animate men to drink alcohol many of them do so. I'd call it a hidden form of prostitution," Winkler told swissinfo.

In order to obtain these eight-month visas, or L-permits, migrant women have to present the authorities with a labour contract of a minimum of three months.

During their stay in Switzerland the cabaret or strip dancers are required to work in a different canton each month. If they are without a contract for more than one month, they lose their legal status and are forced to leave the country.

According to FIZ figures, 256 women from Russia and 410 from Ukraine are currently working as striptease dancers in Switzerland.

Wedding parties

Many women between the ages of 20 and 40 are lured into Switzerland by other means such as through enticing newspaper ads or fake “wedding parties”.

“They invite women to a wedding party and in order to sign up have to give all their details. Later they receive a phone call and are told that they are going to Switzerland to marry a nice husband,” Dussey-Cavassini told swissinfo.

According to Dussey-Cavassini, once in Switzerland the traffickers confiscate the women’s passports and documents and send them to brothels to work for them.

1999 figures from Interpol show that a trafficker or pimp in Europe earns an average of SFr168,000 per year per prostitute employed.

Stricter regulations

In an attempt to prevent trafficking, the Russian embassy has also introduced stricter visa regulations for women wanting to travel to Switzerland.

“If we are faced with a lady who has no idea where she is going and does not speak one of the local languages or English, we will just deny her the visa and take the decision for her,” Dussey-Cavassini said.

The Swiss embassy in Russia receives up to 4,000 applications for tourist visas every month and since March 2002 they have refused 66 of these applications.

Doro Winkler of FIZ is not convinced that stricter visa regulations will solve the problem.

“I think the Swiss embassy’s measures to make obtaining a visa harder is not the right way. Even if women don’t obtain a visa they will get to Switzerland not as a tourist but illegally. It will not prevent trafficking,” she told swissinfo.

Major step

The sociologist Rahel Zschokke, who has worked for the past three years on a study into the trafficking in women from Eastern Europe, told swissinfo that up until June 2002 no legal proceedings were ever taken against a brothel owner employing women without a work permit.

"On June 5 this year, the Swiss Federal Court for the first time prosecuted the owner of a brothel that employed women without a work permit. This is an unprecedented case," Zschokke told swissinfo.

The sociologist, whose study will be published in autumn this year, said that applying the new law was a major step. However, Zschokke also urged the Swiss government to take further steps to protect the victims.

"Women who are sent back to their countries of origin are often castigated by their relatives once they find out what kind of job they had in the West," she said.

"I think the government should give these women a chance and grant them more time in the country, in case they are prepared to testify against the traffickers who are to blame for their fate," Zschokke said.

Switzerland legalised brothels in 1992 and the first official brothel, Petite Fleur, opened in Zurich in February 1998.

by Billi Bierling

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