Friday, May 17, 2002
Drive-thru facility solves Cologne Street sex problem
COLOGNE Half a year after Cologne introduced legal street prostitution in a remote industrial area, police, social workers and the justice authorities are satisfied with what is termed the first "open-air bordello" in Germany.
The facility established last autumn for around 400,000 euros (355,000 dollars) appears to offer more safety, especially for the prostitutes. At the same time, street prostitution in neighbourhoods of Cologne's inner city has all but disappeared.
Based on a street prostitution model in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the open-air facility is located in the northern outskirts of Cologne, about eight kilometres from the central train station.
About the size of a football field, the area in an industrial zone is ringed by a small one-way street where the prostitutes are standing. There, men drive through an iron gate and can cruise in their cars between 2 p.m. and 2 a.m. in search of sexual services.
Once a deal is reached, the prostitute enters the clients' car and then the two drive into what resembles a garage, a place which in bureaucratic German is called a "Verrichtungsbox", which roughly translates as "performance box".
Only this facility has some features meant to enhance the prostitutes' safety from violent customers. For example, the box is so narrow that the driver's door can't be opened, but the passenger door can be so that the prostitute may flee.
Also, there is an emergency button which the woman can push to call for help. These features have solved the problem of violent customers.
"In the past, the street girls were often chased by police. Now the officers are even protecting this legal street sex activity," said Sabine Reichard, a social worker.
The police operate under cover. "Our colleagues naturally aren't in uniform, standing next to the performance boxes," says Arnd Ruenaufer of the Cologne police department.
But the officers do make their presence openly visible at the entry gate, which serves as a deterrent to violent customers.
Another matter is the drug problems which many prostitutes have.
"The women naturally are not stupid. They aren't taking drugs before our eyes, but do so secretly somewhere outside the area," Ruenaufer said.
Also present on the grounds is the Catholic Women's social worker group, which operates a small camping bus. There, the some 100 prostitutes who irregularly offer their services are provided warm drinks, personal consulting, hygienic articles and disposable hyperdermic needles.
The Catholic social workers are vigilant to assure that there is absolutely no violence on the grounds between the women themselves.
"This is the kind of milieu where otherwise it often happens that people get into fights to accomplish what they want," Reichard explains. She says about a dozen prostitutes are present each day: "This makes for competition which the women aren't accustomed to."
All in all, the system has worked so well that illegal street prostitution has been successfully shifted away from downtown Cologne. Leaflets were distributed and police patrol cars were used to advise street prostitutes and customers about the "move" to the sex facility in the industrial zone.
In six months' time, the Cologne government is to decide whether to continue the project. Right now the chances of this seem to be good: there are already numerous queries from other communities which are interested in solving their street prostitution problems the way Cologne has.
Created: January 17, 2004
Last modified: January 17, 2004
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