According to a recent news article published by Der Standard, financial security is often just a distant dream for many sex workers who had no other choice but to work illegally during lockdowns. Since the work conditions are not under control, prostitution often becomes precarious, to say the least.
Debates are going on and on about making sex work legal again since the Covid pandemic became prevalent all around the World. One lockdown came after the other as the situation gradually improved, yet prostitution remains strongly regulated because of the body-to-body nature of the services.
Brothels have closed their doors and there was no more intimacy allowed in the form of paid sex. This was a hard pill to swallow for the currently 1,100 registered prostitutes in Vienna. Only 2 percent of them are Austrians, while the rest of them are foreigners mainly from Romania.
As a legal job, prostitution falls into the self-employed category. They need to pay a flat tax through their brothel without even having a tax number. As a result, they cannot prove their own income and are not entitled to financial support.
The Swedish Model of Prostitution
The aforementioned issue is one of the reasons why many critical voices speak up with the goal to stop prostitution in Austria. But what would happen to those, now legal sex workers who would be affected by such decision?
Actually, the initiative that aims to ban sex works answers yes to this question. According to them, prostitution is linked with severe emotional and physical violence more often than not. The Feminist Discourse Association and Solwodi, a religious aid organization both stand behind this initiative.
If their idea would be put in practice, it would mean that everyone who wants to buy sex would make themselves liable to prosecution. In that case, sex workers would not be held liable at all. Sweden is a great example for this. Since 1999, their way of controlling sex work is to punishing customers who pay for it.
Since then, Iceland and Norway took the same approach. It recently became prevalent in Europe as well with France pursuing the same strategy since 2016. It is now widely called as the Nordic Model and it sheds a light on why making sex work illegal is not the best approach.
According to Wolfgang Langer from the Department for Prostitution Matters of the Vienna State Police, a ban only results in sex workers starting to work illegally, which is why it is better to just control it. It is exactly why there are currently a lot of prostitutes working in illegal apartments.
Illegal Prostitutes Take Away Clients from Brothels
It is completely off the scope of the government and prostitutes working illegally are not safe at all. There is a lot more pressure on them and violence is not uncommon either. Currently, there are countless sex workers available online who work illegally.
They upload their photos with their phone number while keeping their address hidden. The police also uses those websites and platforms for their investigations.
According to Diana, a transsexual woman who comes from Columbia, these sex workers are taking away the customers of legal brothels. She currently leads a sex bar in the second district. Working in a bar like hers is much safer than working illegally.
There are security cameras and the ladies are only able to work with a green card, which proves their successful health check. Legal sex workers need to go through a health check every six weeks at the Vienna Center for Sexual Health.
For Diana, a sex work ban would be a disaster, as it is her full-time job. She pays taxes for it and being able to work legally is what will pave the way for her toward pension. Christine Nagl from the Pia counseling center for sex workers in Salzburg also spoke up on the situation.
Although proponents argue that no women would voluntarily become prostitutes, Christine is strongly against the prostitution ban. She says that there is no way to judge other people’s voluntariness, which is true. From a social counselor’s standpoint, a prostitution ban would be a violation of human rights.
“It is only part of their sexual identity if they want to live and work as prostitutes” Says Nagl.
All We Need is Criminal Code
According to Christian Knappik from Sexwork.at, there are constraints that should remain undisputed when it comes to prostitution. This is based on a penal code, whereas indirectly sanctioning sex workers is not the right approach in his opinion.
He also says that it is immature to assume that sex workers don’t work voluntarily and that the opinion that prostitution should be banned is often racist. After all, most sex workers are immigrants and the assumption that all of them are externally forced into sex work is wrong.
The current political standpoint is that Austria is not going to ban people from buying sex. According to the Federal Chancellery, there should be enough legal work opportunities which also need to be regulated. This was said in 2018, as they realized that sex work simply can’t be avoided.
The demand is high and the prostitution scene needs proper job descriptions. Shiva Prugger, a dominatrix working in a studion in Ottakring also spoke up on the matter. She wanted to make sex workers heard and started a sex work association.
Shiva Prugger’s main goal is to de-stigmatize the profession. It became obvious to her that politicians do their best to avoid using the word “sex work”, as if they would dirty themselves with it.
The Vienna Mayor Does Not Care about Sex Workers
During a press conference, Mayor Michael Ludwig was asked whether brothels would open on May 19th. His answer was that he is not knowledgeable in that area. Prugger says that there are around 300 approved brothels in Vienna.
The fact that the mayor simply does not want to think about that many jobs is pretty astonishing. What Ludwig’s reaction says is that politicians are not concerned about the situation at all. Prugger wants prostitutes not only to become more visible to the government but also to have a say in drafting prostitution laws.
Knappik from Sexwork.at hopes that laws regarding sex work will be revised, as social workers and street workers have a lot in common legally. He also says that the fact that prostitution has its own legislation is what basically stigmatizes it.
Maybe it would have been better to abolish prostitution laws entirely. Police registration also stigmatizes prostitutes in his opinion, as they have to deal with far-reaching consequences when they decide to change careers. This is also why many sex workers avoid registering themselves to the police and start working illegally instead.
Sex work should be something you can write in your résumé without being stigmatized. That is when we would be able to say that sex work is a real profession – according to Nagl.