Monday, September 16, 2013

Sex Work and Safety

Sex boxes
Sex boxes in Zurich

BBC News recently reported that according to a study carried out in Europe most of the prostitutes working on the streets are Roma (Gypsy) women from central and eastern Europe. Many have children to support. In particular, along Zurich's 'sex mile,' most are Hungarian Roma, serving six to 30 or more men a night. Their work often leaves these women exposed to violence.

To address their safety and others social issues surrounding sex work, Zurich recently opened 'sex boxes,' for these prostitutes. The drive-in garages (wooden sheds) set outside the city center provide a safe and secure place (no cameras) for these legal working girls to ply their trade. In the compound are security officers, counselors, toilets and showers, and a kitchen. Workers have access to an alarm button should they need assistance.

New regulations also require prostitutes to buy a daily 'sex workers license' for a nominal fee, and have health insurance. While the project cost the Swiss a million Euros to implement, it would seem the savings in terms of health, security (for both the women and their children for whom they are often sole support) well worth the investment.

In other countries where sex work is legal, there's an app for sharing information among prostitutes about violent clients.  Created in Ireland by Safe IQ, the The “Ugly Mugs” feature allows users to "screen calls from men whom other sex workers have reported for violent attacks, aggressive behavior, harassment, theft, and other bad behavior rarely reported to police." While prostitutes living in Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Norway, and soon, in Canada can access the app, those in New York and other cities where prostitution is illegal, can not.  Even if it were available, Attorney Siena Baskin of the Sex Worker’s Project, a legal advocacy branch of New York’s Urban Justice Center, says sex workers may be reluctant to use it for fear the information may be sourced by law enforcement officials.

Whatever one's moral stance on sex work,  it is interesting to consider that in countries where prostitution is legal participants appear that through either sex boxes or phone apps to work in an overall safer environment than in countries where it is not.

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