Switzerland opens drive-in ‘sex boxes’ in bid to reduce Zurich's street prostitution

Shelters will be equipped with alarm buttons with a security guard present

The city of Zurich will open Switzerland’s first-ever drive in “sex boxes” tomorrow as part of a controversial attempt to reduce open street prostitution, protect sex workers and prevent organised crime.

Nine of the so-called “sex boxes”, each equipped with alarm buttons, a security guard presence, and able to accommodate only one car at time, are to open in the city’s Sihlqai district where residents have long complained about on-street prostitution.

Michael Herzig, a Zurich social services director who supervises the city’s sex workers, defended the move: “Prostitution is a business. We cannot prohibit it, so we want to control it in favour of the sex workers and the population,” he said

“If we do not control it, organised crime and the pimps will take over,” he added. Just over 52 per cent of Zurich’s voters approved of plans to introduce sex-boxes in a referendum held in March last year. The boxes cost the equivalent of €1.7m (£1.4m) to install and €560,000 a year to run.

Ursula Kocher a spokeswoman for Zurich’s “Flora Dora” prostitute support group told Agence France Presse she approved of the sex boxes because they allowed women to remain on site and “deal with customers quickly” rather than exposing them to potentially dangerous situations by clients who took them elsewhere.

However, Switzerland’s popular right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposes the move. “It will not work, either because the clients will not come or because the site will not be used by prostitutes, said Sven Dogwiler an SVP politician. “It puts them in a cleaner environment but one which is subsidised by taxpayers,” he added.
The Zurich sex box experiment follows their largely successful introduction in Germany, where they have been in operation in designated big city areas since 2001. They are reported to have led to a “considerable drop” in violence against sex workers.

But in Dortmund, a number of sex boxes installed in 2007, were closed down in 2011 after they fell under the control of eastern European gangs. 

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