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Prostitution

Background

Reducing human trafficking requires a variety of measures. In connection with prostitution, a general "ban on the sale of sexual services" is often considered to be a remedy.

Experts in Austria though are largely in agreement that it is better to regulate sexual services than to push the existing market underground by trying to ban it. Even though prostitution is a particularly precarious and exploitative field of work, many women consciously take the decision to make a living by selling sexual services.

Countries that have introduced a ban show that demand couldn't be effectively prevented and pushed sex service providers into illegality, where they are exposed to an even greater risk of exploitation.

Whereas a legal market offers the chance to influence working conditions, allows for controls and makes it easier to identify and support potential victims of sexual violence or coercion (including trafficking).

But also regulation poses great challenges. First, it is important to uphold the sexual integrity of those who work in prostitution – a balancing act, since the activity consists of sexual acts. Second, it is still a working environment characterized by pimping and exploitation, a fact that must be taken into account in all regulations.

Moreover and upmost, given the specific risks involved, it is also necessary to create alternative employment opportunities that make it possible to change at all times.

Legal regulation in Austria

Prostitution, the provision of sexual services by adults, is generally legal in Austria.

According to the current case law of the Supreme Court, contracts for sexual services between sex service providers on the one hand and customers on the other are generally permissible. However, this does not create an obligation to actually provide the sexual service. This restriction is necessary to protect the sexual integrity of sex service providers.

However, the Supreme Court has so far not commented on whether also working contracts are generally admissible.

From a labor law point of view, sex service providers are so far generally regarded as self-employed, regardless of their actual working conditions. Nevertheless, under tax law and/or social security law, they can be classified as employees on the basis of their actual working conditions. In practice, this leads to legal uncertainty.

Another federally relevant regulation is the obligation for sex service providers to undergo an examination for specific sexually transmitted diseases every six weeks.

Though conditions under which sexual services may actually be offered fall within the regulatory competence of the federal states. The provincial legislature regulates the personal requirements (above all the age limit), permissible places of work and requirements for operating a brothel. This has led to a very diverse regulatory landscape.

Measures

In order to develop ways to improve working conditions of sex service providers in Austria, an interdisciplinary group of experts headed by the Women's Department was established for the first time in June 2007 as part of the Task Force on Human Trafficking.

This body completed its work in June 2008 with a comprehensive report detailing the legal status of prostitution and its implications. Furthermore, it contains a wide range of measures – especially for the field of federal competences.

In March 2009, a further Working Group on the topic was set up under the Task Force on Human Trafficking. Again under the leadership of the Women's Department and with the mission of a deeper discussion, especially with regard of the competences of the federal states.

This working group is anchored in the National Action Plan on Trafficking in Human Beings as a sub-working group of the Task Force on Human Trafficking. It has summarized its findings in three detailed reports (May 2012 and updated as of March 2015 and May 2018). They contain a detailed description of the relevant legal situation and pervailing problems as well as recommendations and implementation measures already taken. All reports were submitted to the Council of Ministers for information.

Regarding the issue of regulation versus a ban, the Working Group also drafted a Position Paper in which it explains its basic attitude for the regulation of sexual services.

Support and Information

Documents 

Brochure Sexwork-Info 

Sexwork-Info, a comprehensive information booklet for sex workers including addresses of counselling centres and other relevant bodies in Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, English, German, Hungarian, Romanian and Spanish.

Further information