Teenage sex buyers beware: new Swiss laws will send you to prison (update)

Switzerland joins Europe: 16-year-old prostitutes will not be jailed; pimps and buyers will

BERN, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland has been the target of  criticism, often from church groups, for its lack of laws banning under-age prostitution. The situation will change, the Federal Council announced Wednesday 4 July, after approving a modification to the penal code that will make it a crime punishable by prison to buy sexual services from anyone under the age of 18. The revised law will be implemented by the end of 2013 or early 2014, a spokesperson at the Justice Office told GenevaLunch, for technical reasons.

A key part of the legal revision is that while those buying sex or pimping risk imprisonment, their victims will not be, as part of efforts to ensure that minors are not trapped in a vicious circle within the world of prostitution.

Switzerland in June 2010 signed the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, three years after the convention was signed by 23 European Union members.

For the most part Swiss law was already in line with the treaty, the Federal Justice Department notes in a statement issued Wednesday, but a significant difference was that the new convention extends some of the protective rights given to children to adolescents between 16 and 18.

Sexual majority doesn’t mean sexual abuse, convention stipulates

Swiss law until now has not distinguished between sexual leniency at age 16 under the umbrella of the legal sexual majority, which allows minors to have consensual sex with other minors, for example, and sexual acts that involve prostitution or encouragement of it between ages 16 and 18. At age 18, the age of civil majority, prostitution is legal but regulated in Switzerland.

The age of sexual majority has varied in Europe, from age 13 in Spain, for example, to 15 in France and 16 in Belgium and Switzerland.

Switzerland’s system for penal code changes has meant that the obligatory change to the law to be in line with the European convention took two years: one to revise the law and another to send it out for consultation with groups involved in this area, then modify the law taking into account their remarks.

Pimps, houses of ill repute, escort agencies: law comes down hard

The new penal code makes the following changes:

  • There is currently not a risk of a criminal penalty for prostitution unless the partner is under age 16 and the person with the minor is more than three years older; under the revised law anyone having paid sex with a minor (under age 18) risks up to three years in prison;
  • Anyone encouraging prostitution of a minor, from pimps to houses and escort agencies, including family members, risks up to 10 years imprisonment; this includes anyone trying to persuade or encourage a minor to be a prostitute;
  • The new age limit covers pedopornography, so that anyone selling, stocking or supplying pornographic material that includes minors (under age 18) risks up to 10 years in prison and consumers up to three years for possession.

The treaty also calls for the law to specifically ban “grooming”, the use of the Internet to encourage prostitution. Bern says laws in place already make this a criminal activity and only minor modifications will be made to bring the existing law into line with the treaty.