Swiss City to Unveil Taxpayer-Funded “Sex Boxes” for Prostitutes

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STEFFEN SCHMIDT / EPA

Signs to the so-called "sex boxes" in Zurich, on Aug. 15, 2013.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy – especially in the Altstetten area of Zurich where, starting Aug. 26, the city’s prostitutes will have brand new, government-sponsored digs to ply their trade.

Switzerland has a unique system of direct democracy, and issues big and small are frequently decided at the ballot box. Last year, 52% of Zurich voters approved the proposal of municipal authorities to earmark $2 million of taxpayer money towards building nine drive-in structures to provide a safe and discreet environment for sex workers. And on August 26, the “sex boxes,” as these premises are called, will be put into service, welcoming dozens of prostitutes and their clients.

While most of Zurich’s political parties have backed the plan, not everyone in the city is happy about these facilities – like Switzerland’s rightwing party, SVP, which has argued that prostitution is a private matter and no public funds should be spent on sex workers.

But for the city council and residents alike, the Altstetten facility provides a much-needed alternative for prostitutes working in the riverfront Sihlquai neighborhood, where residents have long complained about the noise, traffic jams, and other disturbances caused by clients cruising — and carousing — in the streets. And though the sex boxes come with a $700,000 per-year price tag for operational costs, the city council argued – and voters agreed – that “this money is spent for harm reduction – protecting both sex workers and the public,” Michael Herzig, the social worker responsible for the Altstetten project tells TIME.

(MORE: Facing Crackdowns in the E.U., Hookers Find Sanctuary in Switzerland)

In fact, before earmarking funds for the new premises, Zurich officials visited similar projects in German towns of Cologne, Essen and Dortmund, and decided to take a different approach. “Over there, only the boxes are provided; no counselors or security personnel are present,” Herzig says. “We wanted to have control over the facility and offer better work conditions, so social workers and security guards will be available on the site, ” he adds.

Tucked away from the city center and residential areas, the new sex boxes – each one large enough for one vehicle to be parked inside — will be organized and regulated with traditionally Swiss precision. The site will be open daily from 7:00pm to 5:00am, and drivers will follow arrows painted on the road, where up to 40 prostitutes will be stationed each night. After they negotiate the price, the client and sex worker will drive to a box, attributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Security cameras will not be installed, municipal authorities said, so as not to discourage clients from patronizing sex workers. But each box will be equipped with an alarm button that will summon on-site guards in case of trouble.

Although rudimentary, each stall will be decorated with color lights and posters promoting safe sex; bathrooms, as well as a counseling center for prostitutes will be set up in the same area. Only one driver per car will be permitted to enter the facility; clients who come on foot or on motorbikes will be directed to another authorized prostitution hub located downtown.

(MORE: As Europe Reels, Switzerland Builds New Barriers Against Immigrants)

If it sounds like the Swiss are remarkably open and pragmatic about the sex business, that’s because they have some of the most liberal prostitution laws in the world. While prostitution is legal in most of Europe, some nations have cracked down on their sex industry — Amsterdam’s authorities have fettered hundreds of notorious “window booths” in the city’s red-light district. And prostitution laws are ambiguous in countries like Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, where soliciting sexual services is allowed but selling them is not.

The Swiss believe, however, that legalizing the practice prevents sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and links with criminal networks. In fact, the world’s oldest profession is regarded like any other service sector job. Prostitutes are required to register with local authorities, pay taxes, have medical insurance, and undergo regular health checkups.

Some 14,000 “official” sex workers – not including those working illegally — are currently active in Switzerland. According to Don Juan, a health information service for sex industry, one in five Swiss men between 20 and 65 visit a prostitute at least once in their lives – the second highest rate in Europe after Spain, which may be one of the reasons the country recently saw an influx of sex workers from economically depressed areas of the European Union as well as from countries with restrictive sex trade legislation.

Switzerland’s largest city is no exception. According to police figures, Zurich has about 11 prostitutes per 1,000 people — one of the highest ratios among industrialized countries. Social worker Herzig says that while most sex workers ply their trade in about 200 licensed brothels, approximately 300 – mostly from Eastern Europe – work in the streets, including in the Sihlquai district, which is being replaced by the drive-in boxes.

Those most concerned – prostitutes and their clients – have not yet tested the new premises, but to Herzig and other Zurich officials, sex out of the city, as it were, makes a lot of street sense.

MORE: Switzerland Confidential: Behold the Legal Sex Drive-Thru

78 comments
maxirabor
maxirabor

@TIME @TIMEWorld someone has to do it. If they gonna do it they would need to have a skill set and the means to a safe environment.

MichaelrDunklin
MichaelrDunklin

And what I have learned has blown my mind.My friends sister has been making 72$ a day.Shocking but true.See more at.== > w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

Before you say, "GREAT!' Imagine your daughter there. And if you CAN imagine your daughter there, you also probably have been down the same road yourself, only you were possibly PAYING TO USE someone else's daughter, instead of selling YOUR OWN 'recreational sex'. Sick humanity. As the mileniums pass, and with all the examples of repugnant and disgraceful behavior to be examined, humans become less civilized. Humans as a society will probably not survive till the end of the century. One or many of the skeletons in our closet will reach out its bones to keep us company, i.e. global warming, war, pollution, hunger and the rest of mankind's egoistic 'sweep it under the rug and maybe it'll go away while we see if we can get away with it" attitudes' FROM A TO Z.

RickMiller
RickMiller

@WilliamBarnes  Why do you and other always say "oh, imagine your daughter there, or someone elses daughter".What about SONS? Do you and these others raise your sons that it is just dandy to use prostitutes?? Well in thatcase then it has to be SOMEBODY'S daughter that is needed to service these horny and demented boys. So if you are raising the boys that it is OK well the girls need to come from somewhere and it is usually from fatherless homes or homes that did not promote education so that a girl can take care of herself.


WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@RickMiller @WilliamBarnes You seem to have some serious issues with the subject. I can't quite get what you are complaining about. I think paid sex is degrading and desgusting, though I have never done it either way or condoned it. In the state of evolution most humans seem to be, it's seen as a 'commodity' that is highly regarded or punished for. When humans grow out of this business of using other people's bodies and their own for base 'commercial pleasure'  we can move on to rid the world of other important human maladies also. Real sex is the same as real respect. You cannot force people to respect authority or anybody else. Respect has to be freely given to have real worth. Otherwise it's fake and on the path to a police state. It is given freely, not taken by force or bought. Most people understand that the drive to reproduce is one of the miracles of existence, beautiful and is second only to the will to survive. Draging it down into barbarity is it's disgrace. Accepting it and making it the base of the family unit is where we begin to grow as a society and as human beings. 

Cromulent
Cromulent

".....not everyone in the city is happy about these facilities – like Switzerland’s rightwing party, SVP, which has argued that prostitution is a private matter and no public funds should be spent...."

Gosh, I often lay awake nights worrying that people aren't having enough sex and why we can't spend taxpayer dollars on it.

erossi179
erossi179

Funny coincidence that I stumbled across this article the day after I started to read the book titled "The Quest for Moral Foundations" by Montague Brown.

It will be interesting to ponder on such things as I examine the ideas posed in this book.

Miriam_Langmoen
Miriam_Langmoen

@TIME has got it wrong: in Iceland, Sweden and Norway, selling sex is legal but buying is not, not the other way around.

undeadgoat
undeadgoat

@mistressmatisse I was only there for a few days, but all my stereotypes were confirmed (in Zurich, and in museum narratives).

Yuwp4
Yuwp4

Whether anyone agrees or not, all who sell their body for sex acts, whether voluntarily or under coercion, are victims of sexual abuse.  Taxpayer money should not be spent aiding and abetting sexual abuse. Taxpayer money should be used to train these individuals with the skills needed to enter a non-abusive work setting.

normajeanalmodovar
normajeanalmodovar

@Yuwp4  And you would know this HOW? Because that was YOUR experience? You certainly have a right to talk about what YOU experienced when YOU were a prostitute, but you don't have ANY RIGHT to speak for the rest of us. 

You are a condescending, patronizing imbecile without a clue about sex workers.  Please stop infantilizing us and allow us to decide for ourselves if we are 'victims of sex abuse...' and for most of us, WE ARE NOT VICTIMS- except of the stupidity and ignorance of people like you.

Toodle68
Toodle68

@normajeanalmodovar Exactly..  I saw an interview with a prostitute who said she enjoys sex and thought why not.. She is picky about her clients. She said the first time she did it she had two orgasms and earned a few hundred dollars. She does not in any way consider herself to be a victim. I have meet one myself once who also did not consider themselves to be a victim. She openly said, 5 years on my back, being careful with my money and they are set.  Prostitution is not a moral decay of society..

mistressmatisse
mistressmatisse

@Maggie_McNeill Yeay, I don't. That's why I try to always challenge them on it - in public, whenever possible. Not gonna let them play dumb.

Maggie_McNeill
Maggie_McNeill

@mistressmatisse That's why I never use those terms; were limited when first invented in Revolutionary France, almost totally useless now.

mistressmatisse
mistressmatisse

@tame_lioness Oh I don't doubt that they are, at all. Just interesting to me that an American lite-news magazine wrote the line that way.

mayoknave
mayoknave

@mistressmatisse Evangelical Christians hijacked American conservatism decades ago but it seems like their hold is now fracturing.

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@mayoknave @mistressmatisse I would say the libertarians have pretty much broken their strangle hold. Although basically they just swapped one group of crazies for a group of crazy extremists.

JackStraw
JackStraw

So, how much does the US give them every year?

jusswundrin
jusswundrin

OK, this question is off topic, but can anyone tell me the cheapest airfare to Switzerland?