Working Streets Paved With Good Intentions
New prostitution laws and unrealistsic measures do more damage than good
With the season of charity again upon us, it’s reassuring to know that sex workers, too, won’t be left out in the cold. November has, in fact, become a kind of Sex Law Month in Austria, with new legislation just passed governing prostitutes and pimps. Last year, City Councilwoman Sandra Frauenberger (SPÖ) led the initiative to shift prostitution from predominantly residential areas – which apparently includes graveyards and train stations – by relocating the women to five districts on the outskirts of the city.
Our society is often backward when it comes to regulating the cumulative effect of fishnet stockings paired with platform heels and bare skin.
Now, a year later, it’s safe to say that things have only become worse. The new areas are not as uninhabited as the Councilwoman had hoped and the unhappy locals of the new Red Light Districts recently took to the streets, themselves. Outraged citizens of the Felberstraße neighbourhood in the 15th District felt infiltrated and vented their frustrations by hurling water bombs at the streetwalkers. As if being "all wet" could solve the problem of street prostitution.
However, our society is often backward when it comes to regulating the cumulative effect of fishnet stockings paired with platform heels and bare skin. The latest evidence is the brochure for prostitutes from Vienna’s MA62, which advises the girls to "cover-up". Instead of high heels they advise wearing "comfortable" shoes, and avoiding scarves and necklaces, as a preventive measure against stranglers.
"The coat should always be wide open or completely closed," the brochure reads, "because if it is only half closed, the coat can hang over the shoulders and restrict the movement of your arms." This information could benefit all of society. After all, it’s winter, it’s cold and everyone wears coats.
The manual "Street prostitution – as safe as possible" not only addresses the packaging issues, but also gives advice in more intimate areas: The safest way to give a blowjob, for example, is to avoid positioning yourself between the client’s knees.
In addition, the pamphlet advises prostitutes to always watch the hands of "johns" or "kerb crawlers"; remember licence plate numbers; and be self-confident, which prevents the clients from getting "silly ideas".
The bland publication is hardly eye-catching, but then sadly (or perhaps fortunately) it is mostly plagiarised from a brochure for the German AIDS-Hilfe organisation. And while it may help protect from AIDS, it ignores the real business of prostitution, that is, enticing customers. Perhaps it was just intended to give the girls a little moral support; in light of growing competition, fees are comparably lower.
The market pressure could stem from a section of the new law governing Viennese brothels, instituting tougher hygienic and security regulations. However, of the 450 licenced premises officially offering sexual services, only 164 of them have complied and just 22 were reapproved. It is an open question whether brothel owners will continue to do business illegally or send the prostitutes back to the street.
Werner Schmuck, former owner of the legendary brothel Goldentime Saunaclub, has a solution: A "pleasure room" covering 2,000 square metres, where men can choose between 150 women. It’s a kind of "sex factory" that streamlines operations for maximum customer service.
He plans to set up shop somewhere in Lower Austria, within 15 minutes of Vienna. The exact location will not be revealed until he gets a final commitment from the municipality, Schmuck told the Wirtschaftsblatt in November. He expects more than 1,000 guests per day, an average of six to seven clients per prostitute, surely a heavy workload. Rather than regulating prostitution properly as a trade, this looks more like exploitation and surely a regression in the history of women’s rights.
This sort of establishment – confining the women to one space and one proprietor – is reminiscent of factory farming; a sort of conveyor-belt-coitus. Although the building will fulfill all the new health and safety requirements, it is doubtful that the women’s rights will be respected, or that a simple brochure can make a difference in the safety of those practicing the oldest profession in the world.
Aylin Gunsam has a BA in Political Science and Journalism from the University of Vienna and has started her Political Science MA this semester. She is also currently completing Bachelor degrees in German philology and psychology at the University of Vienna.
For more on prostitution, read an interview with a sex worker in "Women of the Shadows" in Feb. 2011 TVR, and learn about efforts to combat human trafficking in "EXIT: Out of Prostitution" in May 2011 TVR.
Visit the City of Vienna MA 62 site at: www.wien.gv.at/verwaltung/prostitution