The magazine of the photo-essay
Aug 2016 back issue
Maison Close Geneva
by Ana Pollard
A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous! Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Back to menu
Prostitution has been legal in Geneva since 1942. Sexual services may be sold between two consenting adults and is considered an independent economic activity. Coercion is illegal and cracked down on by the police. Sex workers register as self-employed and pay taxes on their earnings to the State. Prostitution is still considered contrary to good morals by the Supreme Court and bureaucracy can make life difficult for sex workers. The famous Swiss prostitute and novelist Grisélidis Réal fought throughout her life for the rights of sex workers and in 1982 founded the association Aspasie that continues with this endeavour today. Grisélidis is now buried at the Cimitière des Rois next to Calvin and Borges. Around four thousand sex workers are active over the course of a year in the Swiss canton. They are particularly noticeable in Geneva’s red light district, the Pâquis, working the street, salons, bars and cabarets. The numbers have risen over the past years due to the deterioration of the economic situation, the higher prices in Switzerland and the clamp down on prostitution in countries such as France. These photographs and the accompanying quotes were captured from spending time with sex workers in Geneva over the period of two months in 2015. Real names are not used.
“For thirty years I have fought for the recognition of the personality and human value of prostitutes around the world so that they are given the respect and rights refused by the morality and hypocrisy of those people who need them and spit on them.” – Grisélidis Réal
“Having got to know a lot of the girls working here I realise that many have had difficult relationships in the past, whether in their childhood or abusive partners.” – Ana
“I have seen how tastes have changed. The services that clients want now are very different. Before requests for s**omy were rare. Now it is asked for all the time. It might be the influence of the internet.” – Lisa
“I used to work in France but the conditions were not great. I had to meet clients at hotels or at their homes. I didn’t feel safe. In Switzerland I can work in relative security. I now travel back and forth for work.” – Melya
“I have been trained to give sexual services to handicapped people by the association Sexualité et Handicap. I think this is really important work. If you are paralysed you can’t even masturbate. Sometimes handicapped clients are brought here by their families.” – Angelina
“I’ve been reading about the economic sexual exchange theory. There is a continuum of relationships in which a man gives compensation for a woman’s sexual services. At one end you have marriage and prostitution at the other.” – Agathe
“There are mirrors everywhere. Some girls don’t like them but they distract me. When I look at myself with a client in a mirror I feel beautiful.” – Sarah
“The worst thing about this work is the secrecy and leading a double life. I don’t mind the work but I have to lie about it to friends and family. They wouldn’t understand.” – Chérie
“Prostitution is either embellished or denigrated by the press. I decided to start this work because I read an article that made it seem glamourous. It isn’t in fact. But it isn’t terrible either. The truth lies somewhere in between.” – Ana
“I’ve been working in the Pâquis for three years. I am clean now and only take a few clients a week. Things are going well. I prefer to work in the street than in a salon. I get a better sense of what is going on and who the clients are.” – Amanda
“I came here from the Ukraine sixteen years ago and have been working at this salon for ten. I used to work at a restaurant but the money wasn’t good.” – Lena
“I am French but I rarely visited prostitutes back at home. Now that I live in Switzerland I come here sometimes. It is legal so I don’t have to worry. I work too hard to have time for a relationship.” – Client
“Prostitutes are either pitied or demonised. People can’t accept that a woman can make a decision to sell sexual services of her own free will. Although prostitution is legal in Switzerland there is still a lot of work to do here. In particular, stigma is a major problem.” - Marianne Schweizer, Aspasie
“I started working here in order to have freedom from financial worries and to pursue art studies. In the end I don’t feel free. I have become a slave to the money.” – Mathilde
“People say that I lead a bad life and that I am nothing but a whore. They will continue to do so, but they should know that I love my life and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.” – Lisa, Owner of the Erotic Salon Venusia
Back to current issue