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Occidental College

Publication Date

Fall 2019

Program Name

Switzerland: Global Health and Development Policy


Sex work in Switzerland, which was decriminalized long ago, has been regarded as one of the most liberal systems of sex work in the world. However, this reputation is contested when factoring in the interaction between immigration and sex work policies. Migrant sex workers in Switzerland are put at a precarious intersection of decriminalized sex industry and restrictive migration policy and attitudes, and are not addressed or protected from violations of the law or violations of their human rights. Using databases containing Swiss legislation, I will critically examine the intersectional effects of migration policy and the treatment of migrants on the sex industry. Specifically, I will analyze how Swiss regulations of sex work serve to perpetuate the vulnerabilities of migrant sex workers given the context of labor migration and policy. This will be done using a discourse analysis of government regulations of sex work and migration, in conjunction with analysis of publications issued by advocacy organizations.

I find that despite having decriminalized sex work in the early 20th century, Swiss legislation fails to adequately and legislatively address the intersectional identities of sex workers. Despite acknowledging that the majority of sex workers in the Swiss sex industry are migrants–and that the number of irregular migrants has increased steadily alongside the rise of restrictive migration policy–the Swiss government chooses to continually criminalize migrant sex workers through repressive migration and sex work policies rather than offering them protections. Thus, migrant sex workers–as a result of their already precarious identities as migrants and sex workers, in conjunction with repressive policy-making–become utterly unprotected politically, legally, and socially in Switzerland. This study serves to highlight that (seemingly) liberal policy alone, for example decriminalizing sex work, is not enough to ensure the effective and safe functionality of the system. Instead, specific protections must be implemented that reflect the actual demographics of those affected by the legislation.


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Immigration Law | International Humanitarian Law | Legal Studies | Migration Studies | Politics and Social Change | Sexuality and the Law | Women's Studies


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