Human trafficking

According to estimates from the United Nations, there are currently 30 million enslaved people throughout the world—more than at any other time in history. People are recruited, violently deceived, and trafficked. Their vulnerability is taken advantage of, and they are exploited in various ways. In Austria, as is the case in other EU countries, sexual exploitation of girls and women—especially in the form of prostitution—is the most common form of exploitation that is taking place. The victims come from lands like Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, China and Nigeria. Their passports are usually confiscated; and they are threatened, monitored, and manipulated to the point where they rarely escape or even seek help.

According to Palermo-protocol (Art. 3 lit. a), the United Nations’ definition of human trafficking is:

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

According to the Austrian Criminal Bureau’s 2015 yearly report addressing human trafficking, 62 victims of human trafficking were identified, and 67 suspects reported as per the correspondent paragraph § 104a from the criminal code. That very same year, however, there were only 5 criminals convicted because of these crimes in Austria.

»  Austrian Platform against Exploitation and Human Trafficking
»  BMEIA – Human Trafficking Task Force
»  Palermo Protocol


Prostitution as the offering of paid sexual services between adults at cost is legal in Austria. In 2012 the Austrian Supreme Court overturned the so-called „Sittenwidrigkeit“ (“violation of morality”), which had kept prostitution illegal up until that point.

People who work in prostitution are generally considered self-employed from a labor law perspective, regardless of their actual working conditions.

There are different legal conditions under which sexual services are actually allowed to be offered depending on the jurisdiction of each province. The legislators from each province regulate the requirements for the working individuals, particularly regarding age, which work places are permissible, and which stipulations the businesses need to meet. This has led to a very diverse regulation landscape.

In Austria—as is the case in other countries like Germany and Holland—it has been decided to provide regulations for prostitution. This is based on the assumption that the government has a better chance to be able to positively influence the work regulations when prostitution is legal.

In the meantime, there is a so-called “StoppSexkauf” initiative in Austria that lobbies for a “Sexkaufverbot” (ban on buying sex) to be passed, as is the case in countries like Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and France.

The premise of this movement is that prostitution is not a profession like any other; rather it constitutes a breech in both the integrity and the dignity of women. She is therefore never acting out of free will, because women who engage in prostitution almost exclusively do so out of economic desperation, not because of their insatiable desire to have sex with many men. In a society which esteems equality and respect, this is not a line of work which promotes these values. Rather it undermines relationship between all women and men. It is only the johns and pimps who are punished by law in this model. Women who work in prostitution will not be penalized; rather they will receive counseling and other services.


Very often, women in prostitution tell us about the particular requests and desires of their customers. It’s not uncommon for men to show the women a video on their cell phone accompanied by the words: “This is what I want to do with you,” and “My girlfriend/wife/partner won’t engage in this.” They show them sexual acts which are brutal, painful, and at times dangerous to one’s health. The women in prostitution are expected—preferably without a condom—to deliver the services that the men saw in pornographic videos that their partners refuse to do. Why are such sexual expectations on the rise?

Pornography seems, at first glance, to be a purely instinctual matter: sexually explicit pictures trigger instinctual responses, which are the product of millions of years of evolution. But if that were true, pornography would be unchanging. The same triggers, bodily parts and their proportions, that appealed to our ancestors would excite us. This is what pornographers would have us believe, for they claim they are battling sexual repression, taboo, and fear and that their goal is to liberate the natural, pent-up sexual instincts.

But in fact the content of pornography is a dynamic phenomenon that perfectly illustrates the progress of an acquired taste. Thirty years ago “hardcore” pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse between two aroused partners, displaying their genitals. “Softcore” meant pictures of women, mostly, on a bed, at their toilette, or in some semi-romantic setting, in various states of undress, breasts revealed.

Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes of forced sex, ejaculations on women’s faces, and angry anal sex, all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation. Hardcore pornography now explores the world of perversion, while softcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago, explicit sexual intercourse between adults, now available on cable TV. The comparatively tame softcore pictures of yesteryear — women in various states of undress — now show up on mainstream media all day long, in the “pornification” of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.

Pornography’s growth has been extraordinary; it accounts for 25 percent of video rentals and is the fourth most common reason people give for going online. An survey of viewers in 2001 found that 80 percent felt they were spending so much time on pornographic sites that they were putting their relationships or jobs at risk. Softcore pornography’s influence is now most profound because, now that it is no longer hidden, it influences young people with little sexual experience and especially plastic minds, in the process of forming their sexual tastes and desires. Yet the plastic influence of pornography on adults can also be profound, and those who use it have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it.

The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act.

“Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure.”

— From the book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, NORMAN DOIDGE, M.D.

»  Safersurfing
»  Weisses Kreuz

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is also a topic that shares a common link to prostitution. People in prostitution experience rape and abuse in their work and have very often already experienced sexual abuse during their childhood.

Sexual abuse in one’s early childhood causes tremendous damage. In some cases, it is the parents—who actually should be the source of provision, love, and acceptance for their children—who are the cause of terror and pain. Or it is the “nice” neighbor or teacher, who the parents trust and who would never do “something like that.”

The perpetrator uses manipulation to get the victim to believe that he/she is at fault for what took place. If the victim’s body happens to respond during the abuse (while being raped, for example), then he/she is often silenced by feelings of shame and guilt. A pimp once claimed that his “best” women are those who had already had sex with family members when they were children. He was somewhat nicer to them than their family had been, but also more dangerous, and they would do anything for him.

In Heart Works’ “Loverboy” brochures, which have already been translated into six different languages, we attempt to reveal the tricks and traps of the so-called “Loverboy’s” exterior and open the eyes of young people to this type of danger. We want to tell all victims of sexual abuse (who we see as survivors):

“It is not your fault! You don’t need to be silent any longer! You are not alone!”

»  “Loverboy” Broschures