Prostitution in Austria
Over the Middle Ages there existed an uneasy association between those selling sex (usually women) on the one side, and church and state on the other. While the practice was frowned on, it thrived, and was tolerated. The Habsburg Rudolph I of Habsburg (1273-1291) made it an offence to insult these "gelüstigen Frauen" in 1276. After all they paid their taxes (two pfennigs a week). On the other hand, on Sundays and during Lent, they were obliged to stay away from the towns.
The first recorded mention of the existence of brothels (Freudenhäusern) in Vienna can be found in a charter of Duke Albrecht III (1365-1379). Some councilors wanted to set up a charitable foundation for prostitutes who renounced their sinful life. However very soon councilors were actually establishing brothels and even supported a nunnery from the taxes.
The last time prostitution was completely forbidden in Austria was under Maria Theresa of Austria (1740-1780) who shipped prostitutes along with other "antisocial" people down the Danube to Timișoara in the Banat region of Romania.
However, since this did little to reduce prostitution, Austrian laws changed to consider prostitution as a necessary evil that had to be tolerated but regulated by the state. In 1850, Dr. Nusser of the Vienna police suggested that prostitutes be required to register with the police, receive medical examinations twice a week, and obtain special health certificates. In 1873, Anton Ritter von Le Monnier, head of the Vienna police, reformed Vienna's prostitution law, and health certificates have been obligatory since that time. Prostitutes who complied with the requirements of registration and examinations were no longer prosecuted by the police. A newspaper article of October 27, 1874 reported that 6,424 prostitutes had received health certificates and were under observation by police and health authorities. According to police estimates, at least 12,000 more women lived on the proceeds of "free love" without being registered. Most of these were factory workers who received so little pay that they needed the additional income. Of the registered prostitutes, 5,312 were unmarried, 902 widows, and 210 married. The youngest was 15 and the oldest 47 years old.
Homosexual male prostitution was legalized in 1989. under paragraph § 210 of the penal code (Strafgesetzbuch).  A major reason for legalization was to reduce the spread of HIV through regular medical examinations.
Durch das Bundesgesetz BGBI. Nr. 243/1989 wurde der § 210 StGB, der bislang die gewerbsmäßige gleichgeschlechtliche Unzucht mit einer Person männlichen Geschlechts unter Strafe stellte, aufgehoben. Diese gesetzliche Maßnahme ist das Ergebnis einer ausführlichen Diskussion, in der die Befürworter hauptsächlich dahingehend argumentierten, dass die im Zusammenhang mit der Verbreitung von AIDS getroffenen Gegenmaßnahmen, insbesondere die Durchführung regelmäßiger Untersuchungen sowie die behördliche Registrierung aller Prostituierten, durch die allgemeine Strafbarkeit der männlichen homosexuellen Prostitution in ihrer Effizienz stark beeinträchtigt würden.
Prostitution in Austria is regulated under the penal code (Strafgesetzbuch), under Zehnter Abschnitt Strafbare Handlungen gegen die sexuelle Integrität und Selbstbestimmung (§§ 201-220b) (Part Ten: Offences against sexual integrity and self-determination (§ § 201-220b)).
Although sex work itself is not forbidden, Section 207b. Sexueller Missbrauch von Jugendlichen (Sexual abuse of juveniles) allows for prosecution of clients of workers younger than 18. Additional restrictions are specified in § 214 to 217. Medical examinations are required by the AIDS and STD laws. The laws of the federal States of Austria place further restrictions on the times and places where prostitution may occur. The most restrictive law is that of Vorarlberg, where prostitution is legal only in licensed brothels and to date no such licenses have been issued.
The Supreme Court of Austria (Oberster Gerichtshof) held in 1989 that Prostitution was a sittenwidriger Vertrag (Unconscionable contract); therefore, a prostitute had no legal recourse against a customer who refuses to pay (OGH June 28, 1989, 3 Ob 516/89). This sentence was revised in 2012 (OGH April 18, 2012, 3 Ob 45/12g), explaining that prostitution can no longer generally be considered as unconscionable because moral attitudes have changed and prostitution is regulated by local laws. In particular, prostitutes now have the legal right to sue for payment.
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Austrian cities do not have red-light districts like the Bahnhofsviertel (Frankfurt am Main), the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, or the De Wallen in Amsterdam; the sex industry is widely distributed over the cities and its presence often goes unnoticed.
In April 2007, 1,352 female and 21 male prostitutes were officially registered in Vienna. In 2003, the oldest prostitute was a 71-year-old Austrian woman, who offered her service in the second district of Vienna, the so-called Leopoldstadt. The number of women working legally and illegally at least from time to time as prostitutes is estimated between 3,500 and 6,000; it is estimated that they totally serve 15,000 clients per day. A similar relation of prostitutes to population number can also be found in other Austrian cities. For example, in 2008 there were 120 registered prostitutes in Linz, which has approximately 10% of the size of Vienna.
Before the Wende there was a relatively good cooperation between police and prostitution from which both sides had their benefits: The pimps were allowed to regulate their turf wars themselves; on the other hand they served as informants for the police. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, however, the situation changed. Many young women from the former Eastern bloc came to Austria and were willing to work for less money than the Austrian women. Additionally organized crime groups from southern and eastern Europe entered the prostitution scene in Austria.
In the following years, in particular in the 1990s, the number of registered prostitutes decreased and the number of unregistered prostitutes increased. Nowadays 60 to 90 percent are migrants, mainly from the former east bloc countries, among them many commuters from the close Slovakia. For example, the police detained several nurses from Bratislava who earned more money in one night on the streets of Vienna than in a whole month in the hospital in Bratislava.
The Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior considers illegal prostitution as a problem because it comes along with crimes like human trafficking, pimping and rape. In addition, unregistered prostitution creates health problems. A quarter of the arrested unregistered prostitutes had multiple infections with sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, according to the health authorities of Vienna, registered prostitutes are the most healthy group of persons. Because of this, the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior wants to transform illegal prostitution into legal regulated prostitution. Similar to the ministry, several human rights and migrants organizations who highlight the bad life and working conditions of prostitutes want a destabilization of prostitution and improve the working and social conditions of sex workers and to abolish the discrimination in the working rights and in the rights of residence. In early 2007 this topic was also discovered by politics and it was discussed to end the unconscionable state of prostitution and to find a legal regulation similar to the German law.
Support for (migrant) sex workers in Austria exists since the beginning of the 1990s through the NGO LEFÖ (Information, Education and Support for Migrant Women) LEFÖ is the Austrian partner of the pan-European network TAMPEP that provides HIV/STI prevention and health promotion among (migrant) sex workers. Other counselling centres for sex workers exist in Vienna (Sophie) and Linz (LENA). Additionally the organization Maiz in Linz offers consulting for migrants working in the sex industry. Since 2005, the group www.sexworker.at is a platform for sex workers and allies that is based in Vienna and operates in the German-speaking region. They are a self-organisation of sex workers and promote the recognition of sex work as legitimate activity and the self-determination and political inclusion of sex workers into decision-making and policy development, implementation and evaluation.
There is an increase of Nigerian prostitutes in Austria, whereby it was found out that many of them are victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution. The NGO Exit documents stories of these victims to increase public awareness. Furthermore, Exit counsels victims who seek help in special African dialects. The exit was initiated by Joana Adesuwa Reiterer, a Nigerian actress and writer based in Vienna who, after escaping a marriage with a pimp, started her research on human trafficking from Africa to Austria for sexual exploitation.
The Young Socialists (Sozialistische Jugend Österreich) have a policy on prostitution, in their women's platform (Frauenpolitik). While considering prostitution a social evil that should be eradicated, at the same time states that so long as it exists the party advocates solidarity with sex workers, their protection and opposes criminalisation as a step that merely drives the trade underground. Amongst other approaches, they suggest unionisation.
Austria is both a transit and a destination country for women and children trafficked from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Nigeria, and sub-Saharan Africa for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Most trafficked women are brought to Austria with promises of unskilled jobs, such as nannies or waitresses. Upon arrival they are often coerced into prostitution. According to police, there also were some women who knowingly entered the country to work as prostitutes but were forced into dependency akin to slavery. Most victims were in the country illegally and feared being turned over to authorities and deported. Traffickers usually retained victims' official documents, including passports, to maintain control over them. Victims reported being subjected to threats and physical violence. A major deterrent to victim cooperation with authorities was fear of retribution, both in Austria and in the victims' countries of origin.
Traffickers include citizens, who are generally connected with licensed brothels, and foreign nationals, who are involved primarily with unlicensed brothels. Authorities estimated that organized crime groups from Eastern Europe, including Russia, controlled much of the trafficking. Police were also aware of cooperation between domestic and foreign citizens to traffic foreign prostitutes through the country. Some victims are trafficked through Austria to Italy, France, and Spain. Women from Africa are trafficked through Spain and Italy to Austria for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Police and NGOs identified a combined total of 203 trafficking victims in 2008, up from 170 in 2007. In 2007, 30 trafficking offenders for whom trafficking was the leading charge were convicted, an increase from 18 such convictions in 2006. The government improved its funding for victim protection, and continued to undertake proactive prevention campaigns in 2008. The government published a brochure on child trafficking in 2008 to raise awareness and provide advice on assisting this population of victims.
The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Austria as a 'Tier 1' country.
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