How is Austria involved in human trafficking?

According to estimates from international organisations there are currently approximately 45 million people that are victims of humans trafficking. More than ever before in human history – and Austria is a not insignificant part of this.

ENSLAVEMENT ON OUR DOORSTEP

„Human trafficking is the trafficking of people in particular helplessness, through the threat or use of force or manipulation, for the purpose of exploitation.“ – UN definition

Here, in our beautiful alpine country, we have a tendency to not identify ourselves with the problems in other countries and continents. We are a small country and tend to think that from here there is nothing we can do – This is the wrong approach! This approach often leads to an “out of sight out of mind” mentality, ignoring the problem and forgetting about the issue. The issue is that Austria is mostly a perpetrator rather than a victim. We are a perpetrator in the sense that Austria is a transit and destination country for human traffickers. Yes, we are a country in the centre of Europe. This sounds romantic and idyllic, but the flip-side is that thousands (estimated to be over 500’000 across Europe) of people annually, mainly women and girls, are enslaved across Europe.

These trafficked and enslaved people amongst us are exploited as labourers. They work in domestic help, in construction, in hospitality, in cleaning services, as au-pairs, in organised begging groups and in the other criminal enterprises or child trafficking. These people are forced into these situations in all the places where threats or perpetration of (sexual-) violence, intentional deception or other forms of repression exist. The largest proportion of human trafficking and slave-like exploitation is found in the sexual exploitation of women and girls. About 90% of those are affected in this way are females, though around 10% are also boys and young men.

Forced prostitution makes up the largest proportion of human trafficking and modern slavery victims by a significant proportion.

FORCED PROSTITUTION IN AUSTRIA

Again a picture advertising “new girls – new prices”. As I pass by I feel ill at the thought of the demand for prostitution in my country being so high that there is a constant supply of people. Often it is young girls, who could be my younger siblings, that are trafficked to my city, my streets and are kept behind tinted windows, in small rooms with no daylight and subjected every day to pain, fear and desperation. Demand determines the supply – this is a rule that I remember from my business administration classes. As sad as this sounds, it is the truth. It is this demand that forces these women, girls and boys into these exploitative situations and makes them victims. It is this demand that often robs these people of their human dignity and it is also the demand that advances the perpetration and normalisation of these crimes.

A typical day in the life of a human trafficker might look like follows: Driving to one of the developing countries that are well known to us such as Hungary, Romania, Czechia and once there speak to children on the street and try to gain their trust. Another common approach is to approach orphanages or foster homes and buy young girls from them. Following this, the girls and young women are then often subjected to extreme physical and mental stress and are broken. Methods used by traffickers include rape, drugs, malnutrition, social isolation. Following this they are taken to and promised a happy future in Austria (without any formal ID or passport). Once in Austria they are sent into prostitution working on the streets, in brothels or in pornography. They are forced to pay pimps and madams for their rooms and condoms. Sadly many clients refuse to use these, exposing the women to further risks. These prostitutes are rarely insured and usually cut off from the outside world. A further complication is that the harms of prostitution are often underplayed in media despite only a small percentage of prostitutes doing the work of thier own free will (less than 5%). Even with this small percentage, the question remains whether something can really be of one’s own free will if there are no other options? One affected woman described it as: “If you are in a burning house and you jump out of the window then, yes, you are doing this of your own free will, but do you really have a choice?” Most Austrian prostitutes also usually have a history of sexual violence being perpetrated against them. They are forced into sex work due to desperation. I spoke to a woman that has been a social worker in Vienna for over 20 years and helps women escape. She told me that in the 20 years of doing this work, she has not yet met a woman that was in prostitution voluntarily.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT ME?

Most of us think that this does not affect us. If I don’t use their services I am not perpetrating protitution people say. What has to be said here is that every click on pornographic websites also represents using the services of a prostitute. You have no idea whether these women are participating in this of their own free will or with genuine consent. We cannot fall into the trap of looking at the pornography industry with rose tinted glasses. Outside of a few exceptions there is no connection between expectation and reality. Forced prostitution and pornography go hand in hand. Most women in pornogrpahy are victims of human trafficking and are forced into sexual exploitaiton for thier mostly male audience. There are also significant numbers of cases where parents sell their children to the pornographic industry. This industry lives from violence perpetrated against women and girls and using drugs to make them participate in this setting for their audience. Every consumer of pornography is also a perpetrator and as long as this demand exists, women girls and boys will be abused, raped and enslaved for the pleasure of others.

Hope for the Future supports women and girls that want to escape from prostitution . We want to listen, observe and help in an active and sustainable manner. Do you share our mission? If so, we look forward to your help to finally end slavery and exploitation in our country.

Translated by Noah Deplazes

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