Prostitution - the provision of sexual services by adults - is generally legal in Austria. However, contracts for sexual services (involving physical contact) were - up to a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2012 - generally regarded as immoral. In that decision, the Supreme Court noted that contracts for sexual services (involving physical contact) are generally permitted between sexworkers and clients. And stated further, that such contracts don't create an obligation to actually provide sexual services - this restriction being necessary to protect the sexual integrity of sexworkers.

The question of whether employment contracts are also generally admissible - and under which conditions - was left open by the Supreme Court. Sexworkers are therefore still considered self-employed - independent of their actual working conditions. However, this does not preclude that sexworkers are considered as non-self-employed under tax law or social security law - depending on their specific working conditions.

Further relevant regulations are to be found in provincial law. Each province regulates for itself (and in detail different) under which conditions sexual services can be provided legally – such as the necessary age limit for sexworkers, requirements for operating a brothel and regulation of other permitted places of work (e.g. street prostitution).

However, to sustainably protect sexworkers from exploitation a harmonised legal concept legal scheme is - that takes into account the interests of sexworkers – is needed.

Firstly, it is important to safeguard the sexual integrity of sexworkers - a balancing act with regard to the fact, that it is all about sexual acts. Secondly, sexwork still is a very precarious field of work - marked by pimping and exploitation - a fact which must be considered in all regulations.

Despite these difficult challenges of legalization and regulation of sexual services, experts in Austria largely agree that it is better to accept these challenges than to push the existing market underground by trying to ban it. There are numerous examples of countries that clearly show that demand can not be suppressed by a ban. Rather on the contrary, a ban regularly seems to put sexworkers to even greater exploitation risk.

Hence regulation that takes into account the interests of sexworkers holds better chances to allow for their actual self-determination and to recognize and support possible victims of (sexual) violence and exploitation.

Nevertheless, given the existing specific risks of this field of work, it is at the same time necessary to create alternative employment opportunities that allow to make a living.

Policy Package

In June 2007, the Human Trafficking Task Force responded to this challenge by appointing an interdisciplinary group of experts chaired by the Women's Division which was commissioned to develop comprehensive policies. At the time with a focus on federal law. Its findings - with a focus on federal law - were summarised in a comprehensive report in June 2008, comprising the prostitution-related legislation, its impacts and a wide range of recommendations - in particular concerning federal powers.

In March 2009, another interdisciplinary group of experts - this time with a focus on regional laws and regulations - was established within the framework of the Human Trafficking Task Force, again chaired by the Women's Division.

This working group has so far published two detailed reports showing the continuing problems and containing a broad range of recommendations (May 2012 and March 2015) - both reports were submitted to the Council of Ministers for information.

On the question of “Regulation versus Legal Ban”, the working group has also drawn up a position paper in which it states its unanimous positive attitude towards a regulation of sexual services.

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