“I have been researching and writing about the global sex trade for 20 years and have visited numerous countries around the world to do so. But nowhere have I encountered such normalization of prostitution as I saw in Geneva—not even in Germany or the Netherlands.” -Julie Bindel, investigative journalist 1
Geneva, Switzerland is consistently ranked among the cities with the best quality of life. It’s nestled between the French Alps to the east, the Jura mountains to the west, and it sits on the banks of Switzerland’s largest lake. The views are stunning—almost like a fairytale. 2
It is known as a center of financial dealings and as a hub of human rights organizations, including the United Nations. But ironically, beneath the humane and breathtakingly beautiful surface of this renowned city lies a rampant prostitution industry that has been legal there since 1948.
Geneva is called the “City of Peace”—but peace for whom? It is far from a peaceful existence for those being prostituted within its city limits.3
The legalization of prostitution promotes social acceptability, which prompts men who might otherwise not buy sex to cross that line. And so the demand rises until it exceeds the number of prostituted women available. Then to fill that gap between demand and supply women are trafficked in from other countries.
Across Switzerland, brothel raids turn up trafficked women from Brazil and Eastern Europe. As in other countries with legal brothels, the illegal side of prostitution does not diminish with legalization. Instead, it often grows.
According to CATW, around 14,000 women are sold into the Swiss sex trade, with approximately 70 percent coming from other countries. A report estimates that 350,000 men—about 20 percent of the population—purchase sexual acts. The Swiss sex trade reaps an estimated 3.5 billion Swiss francs ($3.5 billion) in profits per year.4
One in five men purchases sex acts in Switzerland.
One in five men purchases sex acts in Switzerland. In between their financial dealings or human rights meetings they purchase sex with their meal. They think nothing of it because, to them, it has become a normal part of everyday life.
This normalization clouds sex buyers’ view so severely that the violence inherent in the act of sex buying disappears from view completely. What would otherwise be seen as rape or even gang rape is seen as a “night out with the guys.” Here’s one account from a whistleblower referred to as “Jay,” who has for several years worked for one of the major human rights organizations based in the city. He describes what his human rights organization colleagues shared with him.
Jay tells me about an instance when several colleagues visited a brothel en masse. “They were bragging that five of them had sex with one woman in this place, and that she could not speak any English. When they were leaving, the woman was crying. One of the men said, without any [self-awareness] whatsoever, that she was probably upset because she wanted one of us to take her home.5
One of the reasons Geneva is called the “City of Peace” is the historic Geneva Convention, which places limits on how war is waged. One of the key terms of the 1949 revision is that prisoners of war must not be tortured or mistreated.6 Yet, in the city where the Geneva Convention took place, it is legal to torture and mistreat women via prostitution. The normalization of the sex trade in Switzerland can never erase the reality of its brutal damage to prostituted women.
“They were bragging that five of them had sex with one woman in this place, and that she could not speak any English. When they were leaving, the woman was crying.
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11 (NIV)
In the “City of Peace,” there is no peace for the prostituted.
But shouldn’t human rights apply to all people? Are women in prostitution not human?
The sex industry prefers to dehumanize them, turning them into mere commodities to be bought and sold. But we must fight for the human dignity and human rights of those exploited in the sex industry—and that means putting an end to it.
Join us this month in praying for Geneva, our City in Focus, and all of Switzerland:
- Pray for the reversal of legalized prostitution.
- Pray for the return of women to their own countries.
- Pray for the mass exodus of women from sexual slavery in Switzerland.
- Pray that those who have become blind in Switzerland will see the humanity of these prostituted women again or for the first time.
- Pray that the cover narrative of prostitution being a “job like any other” would be removed, like scales, from the eyes of this city and nation.
- Pray that the deep wounds of prostitution would be healed so that peace can finally come to Geneva—not just for a few, but for all.
Here are some ways you can get involved in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation:
- Watch and share “Is Prostitution a Job?” and “The Key to Ending Sex Trafficking.”
- Get our Intervention Manual and get trained to reach those exploited in the sex industry.
- Join the Wilberforce Initiative Facebook group to receive monthly advocacy directives you can easily participate in to fight commercial sexual exploitation.
- 1. “The Brutal Normality of Switzerland’s Sex Market,” Truth Dig; drilling beneath the headlines, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/a-brutal-normality-switzerlands-sex-market/
- 2. “Basic Facts for the Visitor,” Geneva.Info, http://www.geneva.info/facts/
- 3. “Welcome to Geneva,” Ville de Genève site de officiel,” http://www.ville-geneve.ch/welcome-geneva/
- 4. “The Brutal Normality of Switzerland’s Sex Market,” Truth Dig; drilling beneath the headlines, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/a-brutal-normality-switzerlands-sex-market/
- 5. Ibid
- 6. “Geneva Convention,” History.Com, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/geneva-convention