No prostitution in Neubau, says Blimlinger

An influential Viennese district chief is thwarting his own party’s attempts to reform the city’s prostitution law.

Neubau leader Thomas Blimlinger said today (Fri) he rejected the Greens’ decision to create one of the five areas where street sex trade would be allowed soon in his district. The agreement between his party and the Social Democrats (SPÖ) of Mayor Michael Häupl was harshly criticised by the People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (RFPÖ) before Blimlinger made clear he was against it. The Green Party politician told the Kurier his district was badly affected by strip clubs and dubious bars already.

Blimlinger is expected to appeal to the city’s police force to veto the introduction at the busy Neubaugürtel road. The police have the final say on where prostitution will be legal in Vienna, according to the amendment passed by the SPÖ and the Greens in the city parliament a few weeks ago. The district chiefs’ chances to prevent the creation of areas where prostitution will be allowed are seen as diminishingly low. Leaders of other affected areas but Neubau have not yet commented on the amendment.

Businesspeople fear a decrease in turnover and a slump in customer figures if prostitution becomes legal outside their shops. The city government claimed the new law would raise the safety of prostitutes and separate the areas where they were plying their trade from densely populated regions at the same time.

The Greens admitted earlier this month that the new regulation “is not the best but best-possible law”. The Viennese branch of the SPÖ pointed out that the reform featured lower fines and less bureaucratic barriers for prostitutes but stricter rules for pimps and managers of brothels and bars. The law came into effect on 1 November but it seems certain that the discussion about where prostitution will be allowed eventually will continue as angered residents of affected areas vowed to continue their fight against sex for sale in their streets.

The protesters found support in the form of the city hall opposition. The conservative ÖVP warned that “everything will stay the same” regardless of the new restrictions. The right-wing FPÖ said the city government “perverted its own law” setting up zones where prostitution would be permitted near housing estates. The previous bylaw on the issue prohibited offering sex for cash near schools, kindergartens, churches and cemeteries.

The ÖVP claimed residents were “let down” by the Viennese SPÖ and the Green Party because of the new law which says that pimps face fines of up to 500 Euros for getting prostitutes in touch with customers in no-go areas. Vienna’s prostitutes amassed penalties of one million Euros in 2010, according to magazine profil. The lion’s share of the sum could be cancelled by the police shortly, according to experts.

Around 2,200 women are registered as prostitutes in the Austrian capital but their number is expected to be twice as high as many do not attend mandatory medical checkups. Viennese Greens social affairs spokeswomen Birgit Hebein claimed today the current debate affected only 200 women offering sex on the street. She admitted to not being happy with the recently reached compromise and appealed to the SPÖ to debate the creation of additional areas where prostitution could happen without consequences. Hebein’s suggestion that such activities should be allowed in the Innere Stadt district – Vienna’s posh city centre – is certain to infuriate ÖVP Innere Stadt chief Ursula Stenzel.

Hebein warned that forcing prostitutes to the borders of the city and its society would only create more problems and crimes. A spokeswoman for Sophie, a non-government organisation (NGOs), said in a profil interview that low prices, risky sex practices and uncertainties about how to make ends meet were the most common problems the city’s prostitutes were facing.

Police arrested five people on the first night the new prostitution law was in effect for various breaches. Another 40 people were caught breaking the restrictions too, according to a spokesman. The official said they were not put in custody but may be prosecuted for their offences. He did not elaborate which aspects of the disputed new bylaw had been breached by the men and women.