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What It's Like To Be A Sex Worker In A Country Where Sex Work Is Legal

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I live and work in Austria, the land of the waltz, Mozart, and legalized sex work. This is the process I went through to become certified to have sex for money.

Registering as a self-employed sex worker involved a trip to the municipal authority of health, aka MA 15. My first trip to MA 15 took three hours, and included a gynecological check-up, a tuberculosis test, a blood test, and a meeting with a social worker.

My social worker, a kind woman in her late 50s with short hair and large earrings, explained how to write an invoice correctly. “Give one copy to the client. What he does with it is up to him,” she said. She also informed me of my obligations to register as a freelancer with an insurance provider and tax authorities.

Once my tests proved I was healthy, I received my green card—my passport to the world of sex work—the following week. What followed was a short interview with a police officer to confirm that I was legally residing in Austria, to verify that I’d had my health checkup, and to let local authorities know where I’d be working. This last detail is because any brothel, erotic massage parlor, sauna club, etc., must be registered as well, and the government wants to make sure everyone is working in legal spaces. From then on, all I had to do is go back to MA 15 for a health checkup every six weeks, which is easy and quick.

During those initial meetings with the doctors and the social worker, they all reiterated two things. First, it’s up to me how much I want to work, when I want to work, and what I want to do. Nobody can force me. I might pay a fee to use the premises of a brothel where I can sell my services, but I’m the one calling the shots on what services those might be. Second, if I’m ever in trouble of any kind, I shouldn’t hesitate to call the police. If a sex worker has a green card, there’s nothing to fear in the way of legal or professional repercussions.

This is the world that I choose to live in, because here, sex workers have choices. They are allowed a voice. Meanwhile, in the United States, legislation like the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) threaten the safety and livelihood of sex workers by driving the whole industry even further underground. Regardless of one’s personal thoughts on sex work, no laws should be enacted that aggressively threaten women’s safety. In times like these, legislators should be reminded that there are other, much saner ways to regulate this industry that is as old as commerce itself.

By Steffanie Kaetzchen

illustration: Bárbara Malagoli

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This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018  print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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