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Eastern Europe: Eastern Prostitutes Dominate Austrian Market

By Sue Tapply

Vienna, 3 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Prostitutes from Eastern Europe are cornering the market in Vienna and driving out local competition.

It is called the "white slave trade." Women who sell their bodies for money are now being bought in Eastern Europe by traffickers for sale to brothels in Western European countries.

According to estimates issued by European Union authorities, about half-a-million women from Eastern Europe are working in the West as prostitutes.

An Austrian daily recently said about 80 percent of the prostitutes in Austria are from Eastern Europe.

The local press attributes the ethnic imbalance to basic economics. Traffickers are cutting costs by importing the women from Bratislava, Budapest, Prague or Warsaw instead of from overseas. The local press notes it would be easier logistically to replace a prostitute from Eastern Europe than from the Far East or South America, even though border controls have been tightened.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Vienna reports prostitutes from the Czech and Slovak Republics can be bought for between 3,500-and-10,000 schillings (about $305 to $870) and re-sold to a brothel in Austria for about 20,000 schillings (more than $1,700). German sources say the financial turnover in the underworld of sold sex is considerably higher than that of drug dealing.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, increasing numbers of women have traveled to the West to work as prostitutes -- some voluntarily -- to earn more in a week's stay in Vienna than they would in a year in their homeland.

It is not uncommon for the women to work up to twelve-hour shifts, averaging 20 customers at ten minutes each. If they work in a brothel, chances are they only get a cut of the money. And it is hard to get out of the brothel, because their passports and papers have been taken away.

The European Union is planning to provide financing for infomation programs in Eastern Europe to make women more aware of the slave trade. But for right now, police say the business is not subsiding.