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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Publicly funded drive-in "sex boxes" for prostitution

Zurich's drive-in ‘sex boxes’ enjoy
a ‘promising’ first night

Zurich has launched a novel experiment to make prostitution safer: publicly funded drive-in "sex boxes".

The teak-coloured wooden garages will be open for business from Monday for drive-in customers in a country where prostitution has been legal since 1942 on the outskirts of the Swiss city. The several dozen sex workers who are expected to use them can stand along a short road in a small, circular park where they can negotiate with clients. The park was built in a former industrial area between a rail yard and the fence along a major highway.

The publicly funded facilities – away from the city centre and open all night – include bathrooms, lockers, small cafe tables, a laundry and shower. Men won't have to worry about video surveillance cameras, but the sex workers – who will need a permit and pay tax – will have a panic button and access to on-site social workers trained to look after them reports the UK Guardian.

Modelled after the drive-in brothels used in several cities in Germany and the Netherlands, which have had mixed success improving safety, the sex boxes will be open daily from 7pm to 5am. The city has painted the outdoor bathrooms in soft pink and blue, strung colourful light bulbs among the trees and posted creative signs encouraging the use of condoms to spruce the place up a little and make it seem more pleasant.

"We built the place to be secure for the sex workers. It also had to be discreet for the sex workers and the clientele," said Michael Herzig, of Zurich's social welfare department. "But we thought if we build the place, we can also make it look good."

Zurich requires that street sex workers register with city and health authorities, and it offers health checks and requires that sex workers be at least 18 years old, in keeping with a Council of Europe convention on protecting children from exploitation and abuse.

In Switzerland, anyone who works in the sex trade must be at least 16, the legal age of sexual maturity. The income is taxed and subject to social insurance like any other economic activity.

Zurich’s so-called drive-in ‘sex boxes’ opened for business on Monday and got off to a “promising start” according to Thomas Meier, a spokesman for the city’s social services.

Due to the large amount of public interest in the site Meier explained that “expectations were low for the first evening”. But, seemingly, not everyone was put off, with a few clients and around 30 prostitutes making use of the facilities on the first night.

The aim of the publicly funded experiment is to make prostitution safer. There are no surveillance cameras on site, although the sex workers do have a panic button and access to an on-site social worker.

Located in Altstetten in a former industrial area of the city, the project also hopes to take control of prostitution and move it out of the city centre.

The spokesman added that it could take weeks or months before the site is operational at the desired level because “prostitution is a business that requires a certain degree of confidentiality”. On the opening night only a handful of sex workers were seen in the first hour, likely intimidated by the presence of cameras and journalists.

The ‘sex-boxes’, which are accessible only to motorists, can accommodate up to 50 prostitutes and are open all night. There are also bathrooms, lockers, a laundry room and a shower available for use by the sex workers. They need a permit to use the facilities and will have to pay a small tax.

An organisation will also be on site daily to offer them counselling, medical advice and even German lessons.

Prostitution has been legal in Switzerland since 1942, but growing numbers of sex workers and violence attributed to the trade are beginning to cause problems in certain areas of the city, exasperating local residents.

Your tax dollars at work.
Or in this case, your Swiss Franc's at work.  The publicly funded facilities will
include bathrooms, lockers, small cafe tables and a laundry and shower.
Photograph: John Heilprin/AP

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