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2013-08-27 08:55

GETTING THE PICTURE: Can you get more sordid? Zurich city has erected a sex drive-in where punters can park up with a sex worker who pays rent for the garage. Inset: Not your usual road sign. Images: AFP

FABRICE COFFRINI

Switzerland's first drive-in brothel, said to be intended to take prostitution off the streets, opened on Monday.

ZURICH, Switzerland - Switzerland's first drive-in brothel, said to be intended to take prostitution off the streets, opened on Monday to a big fanfare but little action.

Throngs of reporters rolled up but not many sex workers. Ever-hopeful TV cameras, photographers and journalists jostled to get through the high fence-gate hung with a red umbrella icon to denote "a regulated sex-work area".

Watch the video

A few minutes later a prostitute in the passenger seat of a caravan arrived, her face covered. An hour went by and only three more women had arrived, each refusing to be photographed or talk to journalists, according to an AFP photographer.

'PARKING METERS'

The drive-in, bathed in colourful lights as night fell, has a track where the sex workers can strut their stuff and negotiate a price before the client parks his/her car in a "sex box" garage to conclude the transaction.

Machines that look like parking meters were installed just before opening time to collect five Swiss francs (about R50) "rent" from each working girl per night - of which 50 are allowed to work from 7pm-5am. It's one of three spaces in Zurich were prostitutes can ply their trade.

With the opening of the sex drive-in, however, Zurich's most notorious red-light street, Sihlquai where almost-naked women have long plied their trade openly -to the dismay of residents and businesses - has become off-limits to prostitution. Until now, police said, as many as 100 prostitutes could be seen on street corners in little more than their underwear - sometimes not even that.

Michael Herzig, director of social services for sex workers in the city, insisted that since the city could not ban prostitution "we want to control it in favour of the sex workers and the population". "If we do not control it, organised crime is taking over, and the pimps are taking over."

WAITING FOR LIGHTS OUT?

The drive-in, approved by 52.6% of Zurich voters in a March 2012 referendum, is intended to protect the women; security guards patrol to make sure there is only one man in each car that enters. There are panic buttons in each sex box; on-site doctors and social workers are on call.

Some prostitutes, however, say the strictly controlled environment will scare off customers. While there was little activity on opening night the women and their customers may well have been be waiting for the media spotlight to go out: after the first hour, all the reporters were asked to leave.

About 1200 women - mainly from Eastern Europe - registered as sex workers in Zurich during 2012 but since only newcomers to the trade are listed and many likely work illegally, the true number of prostitutes in the city remains unclear.

The project will be evaluated after three months.

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