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Swiss drive-in 'sex boxes' provide better safety to prostitutes

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New "sex boxes" in Zurich, Switzerland have been put up in hopes of curbing the traffic in busy downtown neighbourhoods, as well as providing more safety to sex workers. (John Heilprin/Associated Press)

Switzerland's largest city launched a new experimental facility today in hopes of appeasing the public and providing safer conditions for sex workers. 

Prostitution has been legal in Switzerland since 1942 and is treated much like any other economic activity, with the income of sex workers taxed and subject to social insurance. 

However, street prostitution is illegal unless in designated areas. 

As the sex trade has increased in recent years, some argue the law does little to protect the sex workers and has also become a nuisance to the public in certain high-traffic areas like Sihlquai due to aggressive men, violence, drugs and sanitation issues, according to a report by the Associated Press. 

In an effort to address both public complaints and a lack of protection for sex workers within the law, these tax-paid, open wooden "sex boxes" - which basically look like car wash stations - were put in place. 

Help standing by

The boxes are located in a former industrial area situated between a highway and rail yard. 

Open from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., they include toilets, showers, lockers, laundry and, most importantly, a panic button on the passenger side for the sex workers. 

On-site social workers and security will also be present.

"(It's) safety for the prostitutes. At least it's a certain kind of a shelter for them. They can do their business, and I respect them," Zurich lawyer Daniel Hartmann told the AP. "They do a great job, and they have better working conditions here. ... They're not exposed to the bosses, to the pimps, in here." 

Members of the public and the media went to the site on the weekend to see how the public money is being put to use. 

The 2.4-million Swiss Francs (about $2.9 Cdn) project was approved by Zurich voters last year. The city will also spend another $750,000 on up-keep. 

Business executive Jean-Marc Hensch, also the head of a neighhourhood association in another part of town, hopes the experiment proves fruitful in order to stay the problem away from his own area where he says some sex workers and clients have defecated and urinated in the street or even had sex in public when there was nowhere else to go. 

"It's an experiment," he told the AP. "It was absolutely urgent to find a solution."

New regulations will also be put in place, along with the drive-in boxes, that will require sex workers to pay for a permit for about 40 Swiss Francs (about $43 Cdn) or roughly a little more than $5 a day. 

What do you think about these taxpayer funded "sex boxes"? Do you think they will help protect both neighbourhood residents and sex workers? 

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