Europe's Brothel? Prostitutes Flock To Geneva As France Cracks Down

With French stepping up enforcement, more and more prostitutes are commuting across the border to work in Switzerland, where the practice is state regulated. It is part of an ongoing migratory ebb and flow in Europe within the world's oldest prof

Sex clubs are legal in Switzerland (pppspics)
Sex clubs are legal in Switzerland (pppspics)
Caroline Riegel

GENEVA - Lisa, who runs Venusia, a legal and regulated house of prostitution in Geneva, has just about had enough. "France is trying to get rid of its prostitutes by sending them abroad. So they come here," she says. "We're sick and tired of this situation."

M. A., an employee of the Gclub, an erotic massage parlor, said the Swiss city is attracting a harmful "new kind of prostitution," where young women try to make a living in big hotels at night without having to pay taxes. "Geneva is becoming the brothel of Europe," she said.

Though most agree that the prostitution market in Geneva is booming, the local police vice unit is not concerned, saying that the increase will eventually level off. "In the 1980s, Geneva prostitutes were already complaining about competition from German prostitutes," says Michel Félix, a member of Aspasie, an association that has been protecting the rights of prostitutes for 30 years. "Then other nationalities started arriving – it works in cycles."

Fewer than 1,000 prostitutes were registered in Geneva in 2004, compared to 4,100 in 2011, with 900 new applications for 2011 alone. The number of French prostitutes is rising dramatically, believed to be linked to crackdowns by law enforcement in France, where the practice remains strictly prohibited. Bertrand Jacquet, leader of the Geneva police vice unit, says French now represent 28% of sex workers in Geneva, and have been the biggest group since 2005. Since 2010, their numbers have increased by 75% according to the Swiss census.

But Jacquet notes that there has also been a 150% rise in the number of Hungarian prostitutes over the same period.

"We need money right now," says T., a beautiful 23-year-old mother who commutes from Lyon to Switzerland every day. "This is not a career. What we want is to make as much money as possible so we don't have to wait 20 years before we can afford to buy a business or an apartment."

Across the border in France, a country that dreams of a society without prostitution, authorities are pragmatic. France, they say, is not going to break down and cry because its sex workers are moving abroad – they have every right to.

The dark side

Lisa angrily accuses the media of hyping up the Swiss Eldorado's huge salaries, thus attracting throngs of girls lured by easy money. Girls can indeed bring in 15,000 to 20,000 Swiss francs (12,000 to 17,000 euros) a month. But rates are actually comparable to those in the other European capitals. As the Gclub puts it: "Customers will usually pay 150 to 300 Swiss francs (120 to 250 euros) in high-class places, but 25 to 40 euros to turn a trick in the street -- that's really slashing prices."

This leads workers like Lisa to remind people of the dark side of this practice: "There's quick money to be made, sure, but never easy money. It's a very hard job."

"It's still an immoral activity," says M. A., "You have to stay strong in your mind. There's a kind of addiction to money. Everything changes, your needs, your habits, you can't go back."

Félix Michel adds: "Many workers are disappointed and have to leave because of the costs; renting prices in Geneva are exorbitant, close to unreasonable sometimes."

Credit, debts, families that need supporting: the girls say they chose to work in Switzerland for the money, but also for safety reasons. "Working in France is way too dangerous," says T. from Lyon. "We're scared to death," adds S. from Annemasse in the southeast of France.

The vice unit in Geneva, praised by all parties concerned, explains: "Women here are not prey. The regulations are very tight and well thought out with good measures in place. And it's working. We've got excellent control over the scene, and there's no human trafficking or mafia networks. Pure and simple, abolition as is advocated in France is simply impossible to achieve."

Michel Félix says that a prostitute who has a legal status and is a full citizen has no reason to turn to these networks to find work. But in Annemasse, the police vice unit is less optimistic: "France will never take its inspiration from Switzerland because morality still has a significant influence on the law. And it looks like the French are heading towards an even more conservative approach. Even the Netherlands is backpedalling, and soon it'll be Geneva's turn to return to stricter measures."

Julie Huissoud, from the Appart 74 association that helps prostitutes, says: "In France, it is assumed that the prostitute is a victim. Here, women can talk about their sufferings. When you end up performing fellatio for 5 or 10 euros, it's called prostitution for survival, no less."

In Geneva, in the small common room of the erotic club, the floor is covered with a jumble of stilettoes, underwear, magazines and empty plates. People wait. A bell rings. Agitated whispers. Girls hastily put on their bras and quickly go on stage. The fleeting silhouettes of indistinct clients make their way upstairs, following the click of high heels. Other girls return, sit down, put on some nail polish, have a quick bite to eat.

"They may drive us off the streets and out of everywhere else," says M., a married woman with two children from the Doubs department in eastern France. "But women will always find a way to do this job."

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - pppspics

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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