Sex boxes and listening to sex workers.

Posted on August 20, 2013

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Thanks to Laura Agustin and Aspasie for their help with this post.

The heartbreaking death of Tracy Connelly reminded us all that even experienced street workers face immense risks every time they go to work. A combination of a society that historically has condoned, or turned a blind eye to attacks on street sex workers, and an ideological belief that sex work can be eradicated by making their lives harder means they are marginalised and often ignored. The solution of many States is to further criminalize their workplaces, target clients, and push them out of bright, safer, inner cities into deserted and dangerous industrial estates. Nine wrote with her years of experience of how Scotland’s campaign against street sex workers pushed them into the cars of rapists.

In this context any place that considers harm reduction as even fractionally as important as the desire of non sex workers not to see us,is quite frankly, a huge step forward.  As Laura Agustin points out on her excellent blog:

This is pragmatism at the highest level; thus the absence of moral outrage on anyone’s part in the announcement – not about AIDS, trafficking, crime or victims.

So how do the boxes work? This article from The Zurich Times describes without the sensationalism of the UK press the details. It also highlights that the safety of workers has been considered.

One of the key points for success is safety, says the head of Michael Herzig project. Two people, counselors or social security guards will be on hand for the opening at 19:00 to close at 05:00. It will cost 500,000 francs per year, or 200,000 more than what was necessary for Sihlquai.

When I first heard of them, my first concern was had sex workers been consulted, and what did they think of the project.  Speaking to Aspasie, a Swiss Sex workers organisation, it became clear that there were many things about the scheme they saw as positives. They highlighted that no sex worker has to use the boxes, and that they had been involved in the design. Good lighting, and facilities for showers, rest breaks and outreach were part of what they wanted.

 In the middle of the park is also a house where prostitutes can rest, shower or talk with social counselors who will be present every night. (From the article)

Aspasie highlight far wider advantages of this, in the building of social networks, and sex workers being able to support each other. As @notahappyhooker discusses here isolation is the common lot of sex workers. Whilst the paper focuses on outreach, sex workers will also be able to do what all workers do in their breaks, hang out with, and support each other. Another feature Aspasie highlighted was that outreach and education can also be done to clients. When it comes to safe sex so often the focus is only on the sex workers, because clients are an even harder to reach group.

These may seem like simple things, the ability to use the bathroom whilst at work, to receive support, if wanted, to shelter from the rain and snow. They are pretty basic, but, if sex workers choose the zone, they will be able to decide for themselves if the medical licenses and control of movement is something they are wiling to do.

All controls on sex work have pros and cons. Some would argue that the residents need to get over their whorephobia. and that full decriminalization of street working is the only answer. There are arguments both ways, but residents as well as workers do have a voice that should be listened too, although it should not dominate.  However to use Laura Agustin’s term, this is a pragmatic scheme and perhaps the last words should go to the representative of Aspasie

“The concept of sexbox is not the panacea, anyway  it will belong to the users, sexworkers and customers to decide of the future of the concept.”

Edited as we seem to have been misinformed about mandatory testing in Switzerland; it is not compulsory