It was just another quiet Thursday night in Brigittenau’s Winarskyhof when, suddenly, a 42-year-old man rushed into the Gemeindewohnung of his partner, a 35-year-old nurse, and gunned her down, shooting her in the foot and head. The woman’s 13-year-old daughter just barely escaped by fleeing the apartment; a visiting neighbor witnessed the crime.
When the police arrive around 20:00, they found the suspect lying shirtless on a bench in the courtyard, intoxicated and unconscious; he had reportedly downed a bottle of vodka shortly after the deed. His handgun, which another resident had knocked out of his hands earlier, lay just a few meters away. The suspect was taken into custody Friday morning and hospitalized on Monday. He had reportedly threatened another individual from the woman’s immediate surroundings last week. This was not reported at the time, so the law enforcement authorities initially had no knowledge of it, said Nina Bussek, the spokeswoman for the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Already the ninth murder of a woman by a current or former partner this year, this sad but all-too-familiar tale has an ugly twist: The suspect is none other than the so-called Bierwirt, the plaintiff in a multi-year sexual harassment case involving Green party head Sigrid Maurer.
While the police initially spoke of a “42-year-old Austrian citizen” over data privacy concerns, numerous sources, including the suspect’s personal lawyer, have since confirmed his identity as Albert Lastufka, a.k.a. the Bierwirt, who achieved nationwide infamy after sending Maurer sexually demeaning Facebook messages in 2018, then suing her for defamation after she posted the messages on Twitter, claiming he never wrote them. A court initially ruled in his favor, but the verdict was eventually overturned. A year later, new evidence – a confession allegedly written by a certain “Willi,” who Lastufka claimed is a regular at his bar – emerged; however, “Willi” first excused himself due to illness, then flatly denied any involvement when he did take the stand. The Bierwirt unexpectedly withdrew his charges, marking the end of the lawsuit.
Maurer expressed “shock” after hearing about the incident. However, she refused to reveal her personal feelings or comment on the case.
“Yesterday the ninth woman this year was murdered by her ex-partner. Every woman killed is one too many. Every injured woman is one too many,” Maurer wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “I am personally shocked that the perpetrator is apparently the Bierwirt, but that is irrelevant in the matter. To clarify: of course, the presumption of innocence applies, so far there is only one suspicion.”
A Dire Record
As the only state in the European Union where more women than men are victims of crimes, Austria’s high number of femicides is shocking but nothing new, with 31 women murdered by their partner last year.
In 2018, Austria recorded a record high 41 femicides, prompting the Interior Ministry to appoint a special commission to investigate the matter. The results were sobering: In each homicide committed during a relationship, the victim was female. In 47% of the cases, the crime was committed after the relationship had ended. An entry ban had been imposed on the ex-partner 44% of the time, and in 16% of the cases, several bans existed. Breakups and unemployment were identified as the biggest contributing factors, closely followed by alcohol or drug abuse. Half of the perpetrators were foreign nationals.
In an interview with the daily newspaper Kurier, psychologist Reinhard Haller expressed concern over Austria’s femicides, stating that these are now occurring “differently” than several years ago: While men used to only attack “during or immediately after an argument,” they now “plan” murders and approach their victims out of “hurt vengeance.” Additionally, “small things” are enough to set perpetrators off. Haller attributes this to men being increasingly narcissistic and feeling threatened by growing female autonomy. Prominent sexist figures, such as former U.S. President Donald Trump, have set examples for such behavior, says Haller.
In Austria, initiatives to protect females are relatively new. The first women’s safehouse opened roughly 40 years ago – in 1978. It took until 1989 for rape and violence within marriage to become a crime. Restraining orders were introduced in 1997.
According to women’s groups, these efforts still have much room for improvement. Maria Rösslhumer, the managing director of the Association of Austrian Autonomous Women’s Shelters (AÖF) argues that the government has failed to act proactively. “Something very bad always has to happen first,” Rösslhumer told Die Presse. “It obviously takes a more or less prominent perpetrator [for the government] to act.”
A Call to Action
During a special summit on Monday, the federal government agreed on new measures to combat violence against women, including enhanced data sharing between authorities, better screening of potential motives, strengthening case conferences where the police, judiciary and victim protection groups exchange information as well as embedding 800 specially trained prevention officers in routine inspections. The Women’s Ministry commissioned the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police) to conduct a qualitative study of all homicides against women in the past decade. Furthermore, the judiciary announced it will facilitate better communication between public prosecutor’s offices and victim protection agencies.
Moreover, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer urged women to contact the police once they feel threatened: “The murders of women this year show one thing in particular: the police were only notified in one out of a total of nine cases.” Raab seconded this, announcing a new information campaign to educate women on available resources for domestic violence victims.
Experts are particularly optimistic about the case conferences. In a ZIB 2 interview, legal expert and psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner said that increased coordination would allow for a more comprehensive risk analysis of potential perpetrators. As a result, authorities could act more swiftly and implement steps in advance, thereby preempting fatal crimes.
More Resources Needed
Women’s organizations welcomed some of the government’s proposals but criticized a lack of funding, with the Wiener Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt (Vienna Intervention Center against Violence) demanding an additional €228 million. The group claims that 3,000 additional staffers are needed to provide proper support for women and children. “We are deeply convinced that we are always working at the limit in our facility,” said member Rosa Logar in a ZIB 1 interview. “We look after over 6,000 victims, we have a counselor for 310 victims, so we can only give short-term help.”
However, it remains unclear whether women’s agencies will receive more resources. During a press conference after the meeting, Women’s Minister Susanne Raab emphasized that the annual budget has already been increased by 50% to a total of €14.65 million, and that violence protection is adequately funded. However, on Tuesday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stated that initiatives “won’t fail because of money,” with his administration ready to provide more funding if necessary. “The financial questions will resolve themselves, Kurz reassured.
Another concern is that the new proposals still fail to safeguard threatened victims. “Unfortunately, we haven’t done everything, it’s not enough to just give a woman a phone number in the middle of the night and then leave her alone,” Rösslhumer said. “Women need personal protection when they are in a risk situation and the perpetrator is still walking around freely.” While personal protection was not on the agenda on Monday, the matter may be discussed at a roundtable with victim protection facilities planned for next week.
Some 500 protestors gathered on Karlsplatz on Monday night, chanting “Stop femicides, you don’t kill for love” and standing in solidarity with women. The group began marching toward the Bierwirt’s establishment in the 8th district, but the police denied direct access, and the gathering dissolved on Lerchenfelderstraße.
With domestic violence against women having only increased during the pandemic, the matter is as urgent as ever.
Click here for Metropole’s guide to mental health and domestic violence services for women.