Human Trafficking in Austria
Human trafficking is - next to the drug and weapons industry - the fastest growing criminal industry in the entire world. Austria plays an important role as a transit and destination country.
FREETHEM is an engaged youth organisation that uses new and unconventional ways to advocate for the prevention of human trafficking. We motivate the public to become engaged creatively in the fight against human trafficking, as well as strive toward better laws through political action in Austria.
Human trafficking exists just as much in our country as it does throughout the world. Austria plays a vital role as a door to Eastern Europe, being the first western european country to border Eastern Europe. We are a transit and destination country to trafficked people. Every year, around 350 human trafficking cases are officially documented in Austria. The large majority of these are cases of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. It often comes as a surprise that human trafficking as a form of sexual exploitation takes place within the confines of legal prostitution. The majority of these women are very young, and come from Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. An African trade route brings many Nigerian victims, as does a trade route from China through Russia, which brings Chinese victims into Europe. Only a small percentage of these sexually exploited victims are ever documented. Most do not come forth to speak up against their traffickers, as the live's of their families are in danger if they should speak up or speak out against their exploiters.
These women aren't confidently going into the sex industry to follow a normal career, as the lobby of the sex industry advertises. Instead, they end up in a hard situation that they cannot escape from. Oftentimes, this is due to a failing economy and few job opportunities which allow the victims to believe false promises of job opportunities in a foreign country that promise work such as being a waitress. Thus, traffickers can bait victims with false promises. It has even often occurred that the own husband or uncle is the trafficker or pimp.
Refugees are especially endangered
The refugee crisis highlights the modernity of human trafficking. Many refugees fall victim to human traffickers on their way to Austria. Europol states that underage refugees are especially endangered - with the number of missing children being estimated at over 10,000. It is guessed that at least half of these underage missing persons end up in forced prostitution.
In addition, a person seeking asylum does not have free access to the job market. The only work they are legally allowed to practice is prostitution, as a form of "new independence" (Form der “Neuen Selbstständigkeit”). Human traffickers and pimps can easily manipulate refugees without hope of better job opportunities.
Freethem - Young People Preventing Human Trafficking
Freethem is a youth organisation that expanded to Austria in 2014. We have since been actively working against the growing demand for work exploitation, prostitution and pornography. Our main focus is to work against the demand for sexual exploitation, as this makes up the largest percentage of trafficked persons.
An Austria Wide Movement is Needed
A large part of the work of Freethem is to build up confidence in knowledge about human trafficking, as well as preventative work so that the underlying system backing human trafficking starts to crumble. We offer workshops at schools and universities about sexual exploitation. We want young people to understand that such a workshop - despite being a hard topic - does not demotivate. Instead, it inspires and strengthens people to take active steps in combating human trafficking.
Freethem offers youth a platform to be active participants. That means that we support individual talents and motivate people to use their own gifts to help spread the word on human trafficking, so that each individual can change a piece of their world in their own way.
Our goal is to use our advocacy work to help encourage the public to feel responsible, so that there is a change in the demand of prostitution, pornography and work exploitation.
Young Political Engagement for New Legislation
Freethem also is concentrated on political work, with the goal of achieving legislative and social change in our society. Human trafficking can be combated more effectively through better legislation, and can also decrease the demand for trafficked persons.
Freethem regularly is invited to Brussels to take part in the European Women's Lobby, which is the largest women's network within the EU. It is through this engagement that we are able to work together with other NGOs to change legislation so that human trafficking will decrease in all EU states. We also had the opportunity to share our NGO concept as well as network at the UN Women's Conference 2016 in New York.
We are also active in Austria and are in contact with political representatives so that we canadvocate efficient human trafficking solutions.
Our Vision for Austria
We believe that laws pave roads for the future, and that they mirror the ethical agreement of a society. We are working towards implementing laws that would benefit the majority as well as the weakest in society. We have analysed the implementation of laws in regard to politics on prostitution in several countries. We have come across a recurring trend while doing so. In 1999, Sweden passed the "Sex Buyer Law", which decriminalised the women in prostitution and instead punished the sex buyer. This was implemented with the goal of reducing the demand for prostitution. The result of this law was a reduction in street prostitution and the occurring human trafficking by half. Likewise, a change in law would play a vital and very important role in helping to fight human trafficking in Austria. Legislation needs to be implemented with advocacy and awareness as a law without action does not help change a society on its own.
Our vision is a country where a society is so educated on human trafficking, that the demand for sexual exploitation diminishes completely.
Freethem addresses a row of societal and politically relevant questions, that may not seem to have anything to do with human trafficking at first glance:
- How does society agree with the public recognition of the sale of sex in regard to gender equality?
- How far is advertisement allowed down the path of sexualisation of women?
- Why are there no open discussions about the omnipresent Sexism in public spaces, such as how Homophobia and Rassism are openly discussed?
- Is prostitution acceptable in a democratic society?
- We would love to hear from you, if you would like to discuss human trafficking or exploitation in Austria.
We have hope and are confident that human trafficking in Austria - with your support - has a chance to be abolished in our lifetime.