As much as the world has changed and will change, one thing that will always be around is the oldest profession: prostitution. Whether prostitution is inherently exploitative, as some claim, or liberating, as others argue, it is definitely not going anywhere. And anything that makes the lives of sex workers safer and better is a good thing.
One of these good things can be found in Zurich, Switzerland. The city has built wooden sheds which locals are calling "drive-in sex boxes," where customers can go and have sex with prostitutes. The sheds will be open from early evening to 5 a.m. According to the Telegraph, "The nine garage-style structures, located in a former industrial zone in the west of the city, have been organized with typically Swiss precision. Drivers will have to follow a clearly marked route along which up to 40 prostitutes will be stationed. Once they have chosen one of the women and negotiated a fee, they will drive into one of the wooden sheds, which are hung with posters advocating the use of condoms and warning of the risk of AIDS." In a 2012 referendum, Zurich's citizens voted for the million euro project, which was inspired by similar efforts in Germany and proposed by Zurich's chief of police.
Prostitution, which Switzerland legalized in 1942, is highly regulated in the nation, and law enforcement seems to be more open and honest about the practice's inescapablity. As the police spokesman Reto Casanova explains, "We can't get rid of prostitution, so have to learn how to control it." Sex workers are required to register with city officials and health officials and have regular medical check ups. They pay taxes on their services and some accept credit cards. While brothels are legal, street prostitution is only legal in certain areas and pimping is completely illegal.
But these new structures are part of an effort to reach the sex trade that is underground and illegal, remove street prostitutes from residential areas, and improve the safety of sex workers. What makes these sheds stand out (besides being government-sanctioned sex sheds) is that they are equipped with alarms and security guards, which will give sex workers more safety and security in the case of violence or attack. The director of the project, Michael Herzig, explains: "We want to regulate prostitution because until now it was the law of the jungle ... 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."
According to Ursula Kocher of the Flora Dora Center for Women, "This solution has several advantages: the support service for the women is better because we are directly here on site. The infrastructure is better. The women can come to us and use the shower and the toilets. We can talk to them without other people listening and the area is closed and observable."
Zurich's high rate of per capita prostitution (about 11 prostitutes per 1,000 people) makes it comparable to Amsterdam, the prostitution mecca. Leaving prostitution to the free market and the law of the jungle would be irresponsible, especially given how pervasive the sex work industry in Switzerland is. Zurich should be commended for the honest, humane, and creative way it is dealing with prostitution.