Prostitution law reform upsets opposition

Vienna has started another attempt to regulate prostitution as a new law on the tradition-rich street sex industry comes into force.

The new bylaw – in effect as of today (Tues) – bans prostitution from anywhere in the city but five areas where it is permitted. Two of them are situated along the busy Gürtel road which has been a hotspot for sex on sale, shady night clubs and exotic massage salons for decades. The previous law meant offering sex was illegal around kindergartens, schools, churches and cemeteries.

The Greens announced that the new regulation “is not the best but best-possible law” on the issue. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) said their ambition was to save prostitutes from plying their trade in unlit and unsafe areas. The reform of the prostitution law features lower fines and less bureaucratic barriers for prostitutes but harsher regulations for pimps and brothels.

One of the most disputed issues discussed in this regard has been whether prostitution should be forced out of housing estates entirely. The city hall opposition endorsed private initiatives against prostitution in their living areas. The People’s Party (ÖVP) deplored that “everything will stay the same” despite a new law, while the Freedom Party (FPÖ) claimed the SPÖ-Green Party coalition was “perverting its own law” creating areas where prostitution was permitted in streets where people were living.

The FPÖ claimed the city hall coalition failed to strictly separate residential zones and areas with prostitution. The right-wing party of Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus said this was the initial plan. The ÖVP Vienna – which is currently looking for a new chief following the resignation of Christine Marek – accused the Social Democrats and Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou’s Greens of “letting down residents.”

Police can fine pimps 500 Euros for getting prostitutes in touch with customers in no-go areas under the new law. Some experts criticised the sum as too low. The city’s prostitutes amassed penalties of one million Euros last year, according to profil. The magazine claimed that the city coalition planned to cancel all outstanding payments of this kind now that the new law was in effect. There are around 2,200 registered prostitutes in Vienna, according to a profil report. However, twice as many women may be selling sex services in the city. Women willing to do so legally must undergo regular health checks at doctors and notify the police.

The uncertainty how to make ends meet, dumping prices and risky sex practices are the most common difficulties Vienna’s prostitutes are confronted with, according to non-government organisations (NGOs). A spokeswoman for NGO Sophie recently explained that there were some illiterate women among those her organisation was helping while others had university degrees. Most of the prostitutes seeking advice at Sophie are between 20 and 35 years old but some have reached the age of 70. The Sophie spokeswoman said she and her team were handing out condoms to prostitutes to increase their awareness for health and safety as a growing number of clients demanded unsafe intercourse.

“They want tenderness and exotic experiences but sometimes disgusting things too,” a 22-year-old Romanian prostitute and mother-of-one told profil about her customers. She demands 20 Euros for sex without a condom, according to the weekly magazine which emphasises prostitutes’ dismal chances for success at police stations or in courts if clients fail to pay up.