Reuters

The city says it wants to protect sex workers, but it's also clearly an attempt to keep prostitutes out of sight.

In 2012, residents of Zurich, Switzerland, voted to ban street solicitation in favor of what is essentially a drive-in prostitution warehouse in the suburbs. The idea is that sex workers who are picked up off the street often don't know where their clients are going to take them. Prostitution has been legal in Switzerland since 1942, but city officials say women are sometimes taken to isolated areas, where they have been robbed and abused. 

By requiring that all sex-work activities—including selection, payment, and the activity itself—take place in a carefully controlled environment, officials hope to cut down on the amount of violence done to sex workers. The BBC explains

There are trees, coloured lights, and benches to sit on, all designed to create an atmosphere which Michael Herzig of the Zurich social services says should not be too "sad".

But since all business must take place inside the compound, there are drive-in "sex boxes", and here the measures taken to protect the women are very apparent.

On the driver's side, the boxes are very narrow, making it difficult for him to get out of the car. On the passenger side, there is plenty of space, an alarm button and an emergency exit.

Meanwhile, just a few steps from the boxes, there is a set of Portakabins where counsellors are on hand, together with a kitchen, toilets and a shower.

A man examines a drive-in sex booth. Each car may contain only one client. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
A sign explaining the rules of a new sex drive-in is pictured during an open day, west of Zurich August 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann)

And it's not just sex worker safety Zurich officials are concerned about. "Zurich is a destination for sex, but the people of Zurich don't want to see it. The government had to do something," Regula Rother, a sex worker advocate, told the BBC.

Pushing sex work out of the city completely and requiring sex workers to buy daily occupational licenses suggests that the city is trying to discourage the industry as much as protect sex workers. While "no-one is really sure whether women or clients will turn up once the sex boxes are open for business," there's a pretty good chance Zurich's prostitution black market isn't going anywhere. 

Top image: A sign leads the way to the drive-in booths for prostitution. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  2. Equity

    What ‘Livability’ Looks Like for Black Women

    Livability indexes can obscure the experiences of non-white people. CityLab analyzed the outcomes just for black women, for a different kind of ranking.

  3. Design

    Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years

    A different kind of wealth distribution in 17th-century Amsterdam paved the way for its quintessential home design.

  4. photo: Developer James Rouse visiting Harborplace in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
    Life

    What Happened to Baltimore’s Harborplace?

    The pioneering festival marketplace was among the most trendsetting urban attractions of the last 40 years. Now it’s looking for a new place in a changed city.

  5. Design

    Before Paris’s Modern-Day Studios, There Were Chambres de Bonne

    Tiny upper-floor “maids’ rooms” have helped drive down local assumptions about exactly how small a livable home can be.

×