Modest start for Switzerland's first drive-in 'sex boxes'

ZURICH Tue Aug 27, 2013 11:14am EDT

1 of 7. A car driven by a participant of a media preview travels past prostitute stands at a sex drive-in, west of Zurich August 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Greeted by a press pack rather than prostitutes, the first customer to roll up to Switzerland's sex drive-in on opening night took one lap of the facility before making a hasty exit.

The second car, a family vehicle driven by a man in sunglasses under cloudy evening skies, broke down and needed jump starting in front of a host of photographers, sniggering into their cameras.

Zurich authorities had said they expected a modest start to the country's first so-called "sex boxes", a row of drive-in wooden garages on a looping track where clients in cars can visit prostitutes, shielded from prying eyes and security cameras.

With an estimated annual turnover of around 3.5 billion Swiss francs ($3.79 billion), prostitution has been legal in Switzerland since 1942, with sex workers in Zurich required to have a special permit, health insurance and pay tax.

The number of prostitutes in the Alpine nation has risen sharply over the last decade, due to the decriminalization of procuring and passive solicitation of sex alongside agreements between Switzerland and the European Union on free movement of people.

The sex boxes, which echo similar drive-in systems in the Netherlands and Germany, are being touted as a way to get large numbers of prostitutes and their clients off Switzerland's otherwise pristine streets.


Complete with panic buttons in each shed, showers, a laundry room and on-site health workers, supporters say the system offers relative security to sex workers and privacy to their clients, while reducing the disturbance to locals.

"The existing strips were simply too strained," said Ursula Kocher at Zurich's welfare department.

"The conditions for the women were completely unhygienic and dangerous, they had to work in woods or secluded car parks," Kocher said, standing in front of the boxes.

Only four prostitutes were on site at the start of the evening, but Kocher said she was sure more women would come to the compound, where they would have access to contraceptives, counseling and sexual health checks.

Between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., men can cruise along the track and choose a prostitute from wooden shelters before parking in one of the nine drive-in boxes.

Though clients must arrive alone in a car, they also have the option of parking and visiting two smaller boxes or one of four camper vans on foot.

Prostitutes at the facility declined to talk to journalists or allow them to take their pictures.


Some critics have voiced concern that the novel fascination with the sex boxes, which have cost taxpayers more than 2 million francs to construct, is a distraction from more serious issues about exploitation and human trafficking.

"It would be more revealing to ask: what sort of men buy sexual services of young women on the street?" said Andrea Gisler, president of Zurich's Frauenzentrale women's group, adding the boxes only relocated red light activities to the outskirts of the city.

"The prostitutes and their protection has never come into it," Gisler said.

The conditions for sex workers may be better in countries where prostitution is legal, but a global study showed this year that they also report higher influxes of human trafficking.

One author of the study, Eric Neumayer at the London School of Economics, said the new system in Zurich could aid monitoring of human trafficking.

"If it's a very controlled environment, it should be easier to do checks on where the women come from, if they are there against their will," Neumayer said.

(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Comments (10)
DCX2 wrote:
Andrea Gisler asks, “what sort of men buy sexual services of young women on the street?”

While I admit that I have no idea, I think this question is worded incorrectly. Instead, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “what sort of society allows social conditions to deteriorate to the point that a young woman will sell herself on the street?”

Some women choose prostitution because they have no other means of survival. If you outlaw prostitution, without offering any social services to compensate, you essentially sentence those young women to a life of misery or death. You also turn the victims into criminals, making them less likely to cooperate with authorities, increasing the associated risks.

Aug 27, 2013 1:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Nietzschele wrote:
Wonderful. We should learn from the Swiss how to treat woman, and men..

I hope the shacks are outfitted with WiFi and central A/C.

Aug 27, 2013 1:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Nietzschele wrote:
A quick joke in honor of the grand opening.

What do most men do immediately after having sex?

10% light up a cigarette.

10% grab something to eat.

80% grab their pants and go home ;-)

Aug 27, 2013 1:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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