Prostitution in Austria

Prostitution in Austria is an example of regulated prostitution. Prostitution is legal but restricted by several regulations.


The last time prostitution was completely forbidden in Austria was under Maria Theresa of Austria, who shipped prostitutes along with other "asocial" people down the Danube to the Banat. Since this did little to reduce prostitution, however, Austrian laws changed to consider prostitution as a necessary evil that had to be tolerated, but regulated by the state. In 1850, the physician 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 (§ 210 Strafgesetzbuch) was legalized in 1989. A major reason for legalization was to reduce the spread of HIV through regular medical examinations.

Current laws

Today prostitution in Austria is regulated by the Strafgesetzbuch. Prostitution is not forbidden, but clients of prostitutes younger than 18 are prosecuted under § 207b (sexual abuse of juveniles). Additional restrictions are specfied 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 Austrian Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court) held in 1989 that Prostitution was a "sittenwidriger Vertrag" (Unconscionable contract); therefore, a prostitute has no legal recourse against a customer who refuses to pay (OGH 28. Juni 1989, 3 Ob 516/89). According to Strafgesetzbuch § 216, it is forbidden to receive a regular income from the prostitution of another person, so a prostitute cannot legally be considered an employee. Prostitutes are considered to be self-employed, and since 1986 they have been required to pay taxes. The Arbeits- und Sozialrechts-Änderungsgesetz (ASRÄG) 1997 included them in social insurance.

Current situation

According to a market study conducted by a Vienna institute in the 1960s, half of all adult male Austrians use the services of a prostitute at least once in their lives.

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.

Number of registrated prostitutes in Vienna

Year Female Male
1874 6,424
1913 1,879
1920 1,387
1993 711
2003 460 14
2004 625
2006 1,132 18
April 2007 1,352 21
In April 2007 1,352 female and 21 male prostitutes where 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. Before the Wende there was a relatively good cooperation between police and prostitution from which both sides had their benefits: The pimps where 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. A lot of young women from the former Eastern bloc came to Austria and were willing to prostitute themselves 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 1990ies the number of legal prostitutes decreased and the number of illegal 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 caught 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 the illegal prostitution as a problem because it comes along with crimes like human trafficking, pimping and rape. In addition, illegal prostitution creates health problems. A quarter of the arrested illegal 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 to a legal one. Similar to the ministry, several human rights and migrants organizations who highlight the bad life and working conditions of prostitutes want a detabooization of prostitution and improve the working and social conditions of sex works 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 unconscionability state of prostitution and to find a legal regulation similar to the German law.

Counselling centres for prostitutes exist in Vienna (Sophie) and Linz (Lena). Additionally the organization LEFÖ (Counselling, Education and Support for Migrant Women) in Vienna and Maiz in Linz offer consulting for migrants working in sex industry.

There is an increase of Nigerian Prostitues in Austria, where by it was found out that many of them are victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution. Ngo Exit documents stories of these victims to sensibilise the publich. Furthermore, Exit consels the victims who seek help in special African dialects. 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 humantrafficking from Africa to Austria for sexual expliotation.


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