Austria is a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically sex trafficking and forced labor. The vast majority of identified victims of trafficking are women and girls forced to engage in Austria’s sex trade. Victims primarily originate from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and, to a lesser extent, China, Nigeria, the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Forced labor also occurs in the agricultural, construction, and catering sectors. Authorities identified trafficking victims among the growing population of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, including the forced begging of children from Syria, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Physically and mentally disabled persons and Roma children were also victims of forced begging.
The Government of Austria fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The toughening of sentencing structures addressed a major concern in Austria’s law enforcement response. The government devoted more resources during this reporting period to identifying and assisting men who are victims of forced labor, although authorities did not provide them with housing. Austrian officials also undertook considerable effort to sensitize law enforcement on the state, national, and international levels to trafficking in persons, as well as conducting extensive public outreach. The government continued to identify and refer trafficking victims for victim-centered assistance in partnership with NGOs. The government demonstrated proactive efforts to identify and prevent domestic servitude in diplomatic households. The government’s conviction rate for trafficking offenders charged under its trafficking law increased slightly during the reporting period.
Recommendations for Austria:
Continue to aggressively prosecute and convict trafficking offenders; continue to ensure more trafficking offenders receive sentences that are proportionate to the gravity of the crime; establish and formalize a nationwide trafficking identification and referral system, including in reception centers for asylum seekers; provide housing at shelters for men who are victims of trafficking; continue efforts to sensitize the judiciary about the challenges victims of human trafficking face in testifying against their exploiters; solidify the standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral; implement screening procedures for identifying victims of human trafficking among deportees; increase the assistance available to men who are victims of human trafficking; provide more specialized assistance throughout the country for children who are victims of human trafficking; review standard operating procedures for the issuance of residency permits for victims of human trafficking who agree to testify, particularly EU nationals who do not meet the criteria for residence; step up training and local outreach efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims among children in prostitution and men working in agriculture, construction, and other sectors where foreign migrants are vulnerable to exploitation; continue to ensure victim protection organizations have access to potential trafficking victims in brothels in the legal sector; continue to proactively refer child trafficking victims, including minors in prostitution, to care and ensure they are not treated as offenders; and continue a targeted campaign for clients in the prostitution sector to alert them to the links between prostitution and trafficking.
The Austrian government sustained a vigorous level of law enforcement efforts. The law was amended to include a more comprehensive enumeration of forms of exploitation (explicitly including begging, benefiting from criminal activities committed by other persons, etc.) and to increase the penalties for the basic offense in Article 104(a)(1) from a maximum of three years’ imprisonment to a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. It also increased the maximum term of imprisonment for trafficking of children between the ages of 14 and 18 years to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Overall convictions for trafficking offenders increased slightly. The government prohibits both sex trafficking and labor trafficking under Article 104(a) of the Austrian criminal code, but continued to use primarily Article 217, which prohibits the transnational movement of persons for prostitution, to prosecute suspected traffickers. Paragraph 1 of Article 217 prohibits the movement of people into Austria for prostitution and Paragraph 2 prohibits the use of deception, threats, or force in the transnational movement of persons for prostitution. Article 104 criminalizes “trafficking for the purpose of slavery” and prescribes penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Penalties prescribed in Article 104(a) range up to 10 years’ imprisonment, while penalties prescribed in Article 217 range from six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government reportedly investigated 192 trafficking cases in 2013; 112 under Article 217; 72 under Article 104(a); and eight under Article 104; there were 134 trafficking investigations in 2012. Four of the victims in cases filed under Article 217 were minors and 15 of the victims in cases filed under Article 104(a) were minors; no minor victims were involved in cases under Article 104. The government prosecuted 40 offenders in 2013: 29 under Article 217, 11 under Article 104(a), and none under Article 104. The government prosecuted 45 offenders in 2012: 38 under Article 217, six under Article 104(a), and one offender under Article 104. Austrian courts convicted 20 offenders in 2013: 18 under Article 217, two under Article 104(a), and none under Article 104. Austrian courts convicted 17 offenders under Article 217 in 2012, and none under Articles 104 and 104(a).
In 2012, two offenders were sentenced to more than five years’ imprisonment; four were sentenced to one to five years’ imprisonment; nine received partial suspended sentences; and two received partially suspended sentences resulting in jail time of one month to one year. In January 2014, a man received a six-year sentence under the revised sentencing laws for pimping, rape, and trafficking in St. Poelten. Investigations and court proceedings for four of the five cases of labor exploitation concerning foreign diplomats were suspended until such time as the suspects are no longer protected by diplomatic immunity. In the other case, the equivalent of approximately $4,800 was awarded to a victim in a civil suit against a diplomat who no longer was in Austria and therefore not protected by diplomatic immunity. The government took steps to address trafficking perpetrated by diplomats posted in Austria, despite challenges diplomatic immunity posed.
Although Paragraph 1 of Article 217 does not require the use of means, such as deceit or force, to prove transnational movement of persons for prostitution, approximately half of those convicted under this statute meet all of the trafficking elements; in the other half, illegal means are suspected, but evidence was insufficient to prove them in court. Experts observed that some criminal investigations against trafficking offenders who victimized Nigerian nationals were dismissed, despite the availability of victim testimony. The government reported domestic workers intending to work for diplomats increasingly applied for tourist visas, in an attempt to evade government scrutiny. The Government of Austria did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Austria maintained a high standard of assistance to female trafficking victims, but continued to lack sufficient services for male trafficking victims. It proactively identified trafficking victims and implemented its policy of granting trafficking victims access to the Austrian labor market. An NGO that worked closely with the government identified 261 women and children subjected to trafficking in 2013, and one government official estimated there were also a small number of male labor trafficking victims; the government, in coordination with NGOs, identified 242 trafficking victims in 2012. The government funded a specialized anti-trafficking NGO that provided 103 trafficking victims with psychological and legal assistance in 2013. Female victims were provided housing, psycho-social assistance, and legal services and were not detained involuntarily; male victims received counselling services, but not housing. The government provided this NGO the equivalent of approximately $732,000 in 2013, which was slightly more than in the previous year. On behalf of the Social Affairs Ministry, the NGO guided a qualitative and quantitative analysis of male trafficking victims in Austria. According to the study, risk sectors include the construction, cleaning, agriculture, prostitution, and gastronomy industries.
The government provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal through its 2009 Residence and Settlement Act, and in 2013 issued six new residency permits to victims and six extensions under Article 69(a). Residence permits were generally granted for a period of one year. The government granted victims who hold residence permits unconditional access to the Austrian labor market. Austrian law encouraged victim cooperation by allowing for residency and work permits. Victims could file civil suits for compensation against traffickers. Victims could testify via video conference or provide anonymous depositions and witness protection programs, including a high-risk witness protection program, allowed victims to retain anonymity in testifying. In one case, the government permitted a victim’s child to travel to Austria to forestall threats against the victim’s family. The Justice Ministry reported 103 victims assisted in prosecutions during 2013. This number remained low due to fears of retaliation. A government-subsidized NGO encouraged and assisted trafficking victims to seek compensation through civil suits, including compensation for non-material damages. Four victims won civil suits in 2013 and collected judgment awards under Article 217. The Federal Criminal Police Office conducted a forensic project to conduct detailed medical examinations of trafficking victims at special hospital units shortly after the identification of victims to obtain evidence for future legal proceedings. During the year, experts cited inconsistencies in legal residency options. The “special protection” residency permit for victims of human trafficking who testify against their traffickers does not apply to non-Austrian citizens of the EU, who must meet a minimum income requirement to legally remain in the country for the duration of the trial. Funding for voluntary repatriation was also not provided for identified trafficking victims. Austria has made considerable effort to address concerns voiced in the 2011 Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) report by intensifying law enforcement cooperation with countries of origin, increasing efforts to identify child victims, and creating a working group to improve identification methods. The government’s regulation of Austria’s sizable, legal commercial sex sector included weekly health checks for sexually transmitted infections and periodic police checks of registration cards. The police continued screening women in prostitution for trafficking indicators using various manuals on trafficking and victim identification—including a pocket card developed in coordination with NGOs—that listed the main indicators for identifying victims of trafficking. Most trafficking victims declined to cooperate with authorities due to fears of retaliation. The government funded Vienna’s specialist center for unaccompanied minors; many of the 202 child victims assisted in 2013 were likely subjected to trafficking. Although the government reported an internal policy shielding victims from punishment for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, an NGO reported in a previous reporting period that some Nigerian trafficking victims were deported.
The Government of Austria continued to devote considerable resources to prevent human trafficking, with increased emphasis on child and labor exploitation. The government published a report in September 2013 in response to the GRETA findings, documenting how it is in compliance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking. The Trafficking Task Force has formed three working groups (prostitution, child trafficking, and labor exploitation) to discuss and recommend policy and legal changes. Actions directly initiated through the taskforce include intensified cooperation between federal and provincial authorities, expanded training, increased public awareness, statutory changes enabling police surveillance for suspicions of pimping, and improved statistical collection. In particular, tabulation of trafficking cases is no longer limited to classification by the leading charge. As a result, trafficking statistics capture all cases in which one of the charges is for trafficking.
The government organized and/or supported numerous public awareness events and programs. Austria hosted several international conferences dealing with the subject of trafficking. For EU Anti-Trafficking Day in October 2013, the Foreign Ministry organized an international conference to discuss strategies to combat trafficking with a strong focus on labor trafficking. The government also subsidized several publications and television programs dealing with the issue of trafficking, and funded campaigns to inform women in prostitution and clients of the rights of women in prostitution under the law. The government also continued a series of school exhibitions to sensitize Austrian youth to trafficking. The exhibition was supplemented by a handbook for teachers that contained additional information on identifying victims of trafficking. The Interior Ministry continued to run a 24-hour trafficking hotline and email service. The Trafficking Task Force’s working group on child trafficking distributed leaflets to various government authorities and the military.
The government continued to cooperate with Germany and Switzerland in the trilateral Campaign to Protect Children and Youth against Sexual Exploitation. The government screened videos to prevent child sexual exploitation in airports, outbound Austrian Airlines flights, tourism offices, train stations, hotels of the Accor group, and doctors’ offices. Austria continued a campaign to encourage tourists and travel agencies to report cases of child sex tourism. The government did not undertake any awareness campaigns to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in 2013, but did conduct awareness campaigns to sensitize clients of prostitution about sex trafficking. The government funded courses conducted by an anti-trafficking NGO to sensitize troops prior to their deployment on peacekeeping missions.