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Fair living and working conditions for sex workers in Zurich

At a glance



In social work research, vulnerability and resilience are not understood exclusively as individual characteristics of a person, but rather the living conditions and structures that lead to particular or increased vulnerability.

As far as the living conditions of sex workers are concerned, there is a strong interaction between finances, housing conditions, place of work, social network, personal autonomy and health. For example, if rents increase financial pressure, this can lead to sex workers taking higher risks at work, disregarding health prevention measures or being more likely to become victims of violence and pressure.

Little research has been conducted into which organisational forms of sex work reduce vulnerability. Politically, there is a fundamental debate about whether or not prohibition or liberal regulation fuel exploitation and vulnerability. A look at vulnerability research would show that this is less a question of models and systems than of their concrete implementation. Based on this consideration, the present research project aims to design possible forms of organisation of sex work that shape the living and working conditions of sex workers in such a way that essential vulnerability factors are mitigated and that the overall financial, legal and social pressure emanating from the living and working conditions in the city of Zurich is low. This will not eliminate the fundamental poverty and precarious living situation of many sex workers, but it should remove significant burdens and provide relief.


The aim of this research project is to find out which forms of housing and work would be suitable for sex workers in the city of Zurich in order to enable sex work to be carried out

  • as independently and self-determinedly as possible,
  • eliminate or at least defuse existing dependency or exploitation relationships,
  • reduce health, social, financial and legal risks,
  • facilitate access to social, medical, financial and legal support,
  • avoid creating new dependencies as far as possible and
  • experience self-efficacy.

Specifically, several variants of possible forms of living and working will be described and evaluated according to a catalogue of criteria yet to be developed. A self-managed brothel, affordable places to live and work with or without care or support and much more are conceivable. However, the realisation of a state-run brothel has already been ruled out because the City Council of Zurich spoke out against it in 2016.

The description of these options should cover the following topics in particular, but not exclusively:

  • Target group(s) and objectives
  • Offer and services
  • Organisational form and operating concept
  • Scope, size
  • Possible location
  • Security
  • Expected costs, forms of financing

The result is recorded in the form of a report and serves as a basis for decisions on how to proceed, e.g. for the development of a pilot project.


Preliminary study

  • Literature research
  • Telephone survey of counselling centres in other Swiss cities and abroad
  • Survey of sex workers

Analysing and processing the preliminary results

The research team collects all the results, puts them in an analysis software, analyses the results and forms hypotheses. Results and hypotheses are processed and made available to all participants.

Four expert workshops

The variants for possible future forms of living and working for sex workers are developed in a series of four expert workshops.

The participants will receive the results of the preliminary study and the previous workshops in writing, with the request to study them and, if necessary, to discuss them within the organisation. In these half-day workshops, firstly, all existing expert knowledge will be compiled and secondly, possible future forms of living and working will be outlined. Deviations and contradictions should be resolved and a consensual result found. If this is not possible, the deviations will be described and justified.