How Austria wants to tighten law to protect children against abuse

Austria was shocked when one of its most prominent actors was found with thousands of child abuse pictures. Now, the government wants stricter laws to combat the crime. Here's what will change.

How Austria wants to tighten law to protect children against abuse
Austria's Justice Minister Alma Zadic (© Parlamentsdirektion / Thomas Jantzen)

Florian Teichtmeister is a Viennese actor who was an ensemble member at the prestigious Vienna Burgtheater. His name hit the global spotlight as he played Emperor Franz Joseph in Austria’s acclaimed historical drama Corsage, which was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination. 

But Teichtmeister is now better known as the Austrian actor charged with possessing pornographic images of minors. His trial, for which he plans to plead guilty to having several data storage devices with some 58,000 illegal images, will begin on February 8th and has shocked the country.

READ ALSO: Austrian film ‘Corsage’ under shadow of actor’s child pornography trial

The case revealed a significant gap in child protection in Austria, especially in comparison to neighbouring countries. For example, while in Austria, possession of abuse images carries up to two years imprisonment and dissemination of such material carries up to three years imprisonment, the law in Germany provides for prison sentences of up to five and up to ten years, respectively, for the same offences.

After popular pressure, the federal government raced to present a package of measures to protect children from abuse better. 

On Wednesday, the 25th, Family Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) and Justice Minister Alma Zadić (Greens) presented the measures focusing on stricter penalties for offenders, better prevention and protection for the victims.

What will the government do? 

The first thing is that the term “child pornography” will no longer be used, as it is considered to trivialising the issue. “Anyone who looks at it is also accepting that children are being raped”, said Zadić.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) had already voiced similar concerns. “It is trivialising to speak of child pornography. That is child abuse and deserves no tolerance.”, he said last week. 

Better prevention and more protection for children

The government announced an educational campaign to convey to children that assault is neither normal nor okay. The best tools the criminals have are still the shame of the abused, and proceedings are also discontinued due to a lack of evidence or the children’s inability (or unwillingness) to testify.

READ ALSO: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

According to a Der Standard report, the Ministry of Education is also working on implementing “mandatory child protection concepts” (verpflichtenden Kinderschutzkonzepte). 

The guidance would minimise the risk to children and provide teachers with a roadmap for proceeding if a suspected case arises or a child approaches them. 

Higher penalties for offenders

The minister said all parties were in favour of increasing offenders’ penalties. 

Anyone who possesses abuse images of children over 14 will face up to two years in prison – previously, it was one year. For children under 14, the sentence will be increased from three to four years. 

Those who produce images of abuse will face harsher penalties – up to five years in prison. In addition, ten years will be imposed on those who do so explicitly for the purpose of dissemination.

Support for victims

The new government measures also seek to expand support for victims, earmarking €2 million for family counselling centres which would then be funded with €9 million annually. However, this money would also be spent on therapy services for offenders.

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

Austrian authorities also want to invest more in resources to investigate possible crimes, particularly online, as state departments would be expanded and special units would be created. Finally, they want to adopt a software solution to facilitate viewing the sensitive material.

The draft presented by the government brings the pillars of the measures, but there’s much still unclear. Zadić said she expects a concrete legal text before summer. It would then have to be presented and approved in parliament before becoming law.

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Muslims and black people discriminated against in Austria, new report reveals

Austrian anti-racism NGO Zara released its Racism Report 2022, documenting discrimination cases in the Alpine country.

Muslims and black people discriminated against in Austria, new report reveals

The Austrian non-government organisation Zara receives complaints and assists victims of racism and discrimination in the country. Every year, they deal with cases which involve attacks on Muslims, black mothers and their children being harassed and more. In 2022, they received 1,479 reports of racist incidents, according to a recent Rassismus Report.

For the first time, the numbers have decreased slightly in Austria. In 2021, the organisation documented and handled 1,977 reports of racism. Most of the incidents occurred online (68 percent). Still, many happened in the public sphere, in places for goods & services, involving public authorities and institutions, in employment, in the police institution or within politics & media.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

One case mentioned within the police happened when a police officer was called to check on an apartment party and allegedly asked only black people to show their identification, according to the report. 

Often, little comes of trying to defend oneself against such police assaults, Zara consultant Matthias Flug told Der Standard. Investigations are mostly dropped, he said. “One reason for this is that there is still no independent body outside the police structures that investigates these complaints,” he criticised.

Austria’s Interior Ministry only recently announced it would open a complaints body to look into police violence, the report added. 

Legal action was taken in two out of ten reports; otherwise, the Zara team reported posts to online platforms or intervened with the actors.

In most cases, victims and witnesses reported islamophobia, followed by complaints of racism. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

‘Omnipresent racism’

“It’s important to be aware of the pervasiveness of racism in our society,” said Zara counsellor Rakhi Schmuck. Affected people could be confronted with it at any time, he added.

“They could experience racism just as much when receiving medical treatment as when shopping at the supermarket. They will never have an effortless reality of life”, Schmuck said.

The report clarifies people’s rights when they suffer from racist encounters. For example, in Austria, racist insults are prohibited by law and, in contrast to simple insults, can be reported to the police. The person affected can authorise the initiation of criminal proceedings. Associations such as ZARA can offer support and legal assistance.