Switzerland's Answer to Dirty Prostitution? 'Sex Boxes'

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A sex advertisement in a Zurich train station

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in the Tages-Anzeiger.

ZURICH — Local officials have decided that this city's expanding legal sex industry needs to be better organized. Zurich municipal authorities have proposed a series of changes to existing prostitution regulations that would allow prostitutes to continue plying their trade, but only in three specific zones — including one equipped with new booths to welcome their clients.

The proposed measures, which need the city council's approval, include forbidding street prostitution along the Sihlquai riverbank and in the busy Langstrasse area. In exchange, the activity will be allowed between Aargauerstrasse and Würzgrabenstrasse, outside the city center, where booths will be built to accommodate sex workers and their customers.

Street prostitutes will still be allowed to work in the city's pedestrian nightlife area, the centrally located Niederdorf, and solicit vehicle-driving clients in Allmend Brunau. The Zurich city council expects the new laws will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Presenting the new measures to the media at a town-hall press conference on May 25 were three of Zurich's nine city councilors: Claudia Nielsen, Daniel Leupi and Martin Waser, who are responsible, respectively, for policies on health and environment, the police and social issues.

Leupi explained that the city council's goal in introducing the measures was to combat human trafficking, offer appropriate response to victims, minimize the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and protect both sex workers and the population at large from violence.

City councilor Waser explained that at peak hours, when up to 120 sex workers can operate at the same time, street solicitation can be a real disturbance to ordinary people — thus the need to channel the activity to designated areas.

According to Nielsen, the number of female sex workers in Zurich in 2010 had increased significantly over recent years, with many of the new workers arriving from Hungary. Nielsen said that the rise in the number of workers also increased pimping and human-trafficking risks. The new measures, she explained, were not so much antiprostitution as antitrafficking.

As sex workers often didn't have information about their rights, Nielsen added, the council was looking to advise prostitutes by establishing direct lines of communication. Once the new regulations are in place, sex workers — whether or not they work the streets — will also need to obtain licenses.

Introducing 'Sex Boxes'
Other developments include creating a special commission in which representatives of local NGOs will also sit and measures to insure that resources are allocated as effectively as possible.

The council initially plans to build 10 booths, popularly known as sex boxes, in Altstetten — more to be built if the amount of activity warrants it. Resources presently allocated to Sihlquai will be switched to the new area, so the only additional costs, anticipated at $2.8 million, will be those of constructing the boxes.

The new Altstetten prostitution area will be easy to monitor, control and protect, council members say. It will be operated and maintained by social services. Residents of the area have been informed of the plan. Plans for the design and construction of the sex boxes, scheduled to be ready by the spring of 2012, are already under way.

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