Safer Sex? Public Prostitution Houses

A new sex market in Zurich, Switzerland has caused a lot of buzz lately in the media.  Zurich is instituting a public meeting place, or several “sex boxes” where prostitution can take place in a safer environment.  In Switzerland it is not illegal to be a prostitute, so the goal of this new institution is to provide a safer working place for prostitutes, while also cleaning up the streets.

Some citizens are upset because they are institutionalizing prostitution, while others are happy to see less pimping on street corners and a more sanitary situation.  To those that say a public sex market patrolled by public workers is immoral, one could say that it is immoral to not allow citizens to work.  Being a person who gets paid for sex is a job.  It may not be a job you and I may want, but it is a job that some people may have a comparative advantage at or a preference for.  Further, the demand is there.  People want sex all the time and people ARE WILLING to pay for it.  So, why when a market for sex emerges do people cringe at the idea of legal prostitution? In Switzerland legalization is not an issue where in the United States it is (minus some counties surrounding Las Vegas). However, the issue in Switzerland is whether the government publicizing sex by means of “sex boxes” with bathrooms for sanitation purposes and patrols to ensure the safety of workers is wrong and will actually address the issue of prostitution safety that it was intended to.

First, the idea that these public “sex boxes” won’t be exposed to pimps is far-fetched.  Pimps can still come to collect money and even try to pay off the public workers that are intended to protect prostitutes.  Even if this is not the case, couldn’t public workers essentially turn into pimps since they are playing a similar role to pimps in that they provide security?  It would just transfer the private black market job of pimping to a public worker, which will force the former street pimp to either find a new job or turn into different black market activities.

Second, the issue that prostitutes were having sex in open areas and urinating on the streets may not be resolved by “sex boxes” that have café, bathrooms, a shower and tables.  Although these seem like nice amenities, the cleanliness of the facilities is unlikely to be cleaner then a grassy park area.  Sure the Zurich public gardens and streets may be cleaner for citizens with the loss of street corner prostitutes, but those gardens are probably more sterile than any “sex box”, bathroom or table at a public prostitution house. Further, the “sex boxes” are sheds with no doors, allowing easy entry from other clients or public workers.  In terms of prostitution safety, I am unsure of whether easy access all-around provides a more sanitary situation.

Now, the other goal of public prostitution houses is to reduce prostitution seen on the streets and in this case, that may be possible (and for taxpayers who are shelving $760,000/year to keep it running they certainly hope so), but it is unlikely.  Prostitutes are likely to relocate as a new marketplace for sex opens up, but I don’t think it will move all prostitutes to these public houses despite a meager $43 for a prostitute license fee.  Instead there may just be a move to relocate prostitutes off the streets in massage parlors or other private places by pimps who are scared to lose their jobs.  Contrarily, having easier access off of a road to prostitutes may actually increase the demand for prostitutes and thus encourage more people to enter into the market, which may altogether not change the amount of prostitutes on the streets.

Despite the perhaps good intentions of public prostitution houses, it is unlikely that the safety of prostitutes or the street sanitation issue will be enhanced in Zurich with the new “sex boxes”.

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