Sex Box: Inside Zurich's Plan to Build a Prostitution Drive-In

It's the world's oldest profession, and in Switzerland it's completely legal.

In an effort to regulate prostitution, officials are introducing drive-in "sex boxes" to keep the sex trade off the streets of Zurich, address the problem of pumping and improve the safety and security of sex workers

But will this "unique" initiative actually make prostitution safer? While city officials say it's a smart move, evidence suggests that the results are less effective than they'd like to acknowledge.

Located in an industrial part of the city, one of nine garage-style structures will be unveiled during an official ceremony on August.  

Open daily from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., the sites will be open to drivers only, who must be along in their vehicle in order to pass the gate. They will then have to follow a marked route along which up to 40 prostitutes will be stationed. After choosing one of the women and negotiating a fee, they will then drive into one of the wooden sheds for some private time.

Each shed will be equipped with alarms so workers can notify authorities in case of emergency, and hung with posters advocating the use of condoms and warnings about the risk of AIDS. 

Women working at the drive-in will also be required to pay for a permit, medical insurance, and a nightly tax fee of five Swiss francs (about $5).

While social workers and security guards will be on hand, city authorities said there were no plans to install video surveillance or deploy police at the site "to avoid putting off clients."

Approved by Zurich's voters in November 2012 in a referendum vote, the new site cost the city 2.1 million francs ($2.2 million) with running costs of approximately 700,000 francs per year. 

"The big difference is that until now prostitution has been in the public space," Michael Herzig of Zurich's social welfare department said last year. "Now we are going to change this, move it from the street to a private space in an old industrial area, which belongs to the city. This gives us the possibility to define the rules of prostitution in this area." 

The new sex boxes are one of several measures intended to reduce the large number of prostitutes plying their trade in the city and in residential areas. Men who do solicit street workers outside these sex boxes and three approved zones will face fines of up to 450 francs, according to the Telegraph. 

"We want to regulate prostitution because until now it was the law of the jungle," said Michael Herzig, from Zurich's social welfare departmentg. "It was the pimps who decided the prices, for instance. We are trying to reach a situation which is better for the prostitutes themselves, for their health and security and also for people who live in Zurich."

While these sex boxes may lift a part of the sex worker population off of the streets of Zurich and possibly make conditions safer for them, the city has long been home to a red-light district that is not about to move its practice into car-wash style sheds. By trying to eliminate pimps, who usually decide the prices, this move could possibly drive the trade further underground as well.

Should the U.S. take note of this new policy and reopen the debate of legalizing prostitution?

Not so fast. 

Switzerland is one of more than 50 countries in the world, including Argentina, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain that have legalized prostitution in an attempt to regulate the industry. This sweeping move, however, has resulted in Spain becoming a magnet for sex- trafficking. Brazil, where prostitution is also legal, is home to one of the world's hot spots for child sex trafficking

Despite legalizing prostitution over a decade ago to create better conditions for sex workers, exploitation and human trafficking are still significant problems in Germany. Drive-in sex boxes were also employed in several German cities as well.  

Whether or not Zurich's new sex box initiative will help make prostitution safer and better regulated is yet to be seen. So far however, for nations that have legalized prostitution, monitoring the sex trade industry and forming regulations around it has proved to be easier said than done. 

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Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Hyacinth is a graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. Her interests include cultural, social and political trends in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as human rights issues across the globe.

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