The stone buildings and labyrinthine pedestrian streets, built for a time before cars, come to life as street lamps blink on.
She gets distracted by two young men who appear to be taking pictures of each other and purposefully getting her in the frame. When the flash goes off, she yells at them and tries to grab the camera. The two men laugh and continue drinking their beers. And with nearly 2, brothels — including the biggest one in Europe — Spain has the third highest rate of prostitution in the world, with an estimated ,—, sex workers.
Sex work was decriminalized in Spain inyet there are no laws directly addressing the issue, leaving women in the industry in a legal vacuum. Sex work is tolerated, but not regulated. A police report from last year revealed 5, cases of human trafficking in the five yearsthe majority forced to work in the sex industry. Academics say that in Spain up to 90 percent of sex workers could be under the control of organized crime networks, trafficked from other countries. In the s, most sex workers were Spanish, but today, 80—90 percent are immigrantsmostly from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Eastern Europe.
Sex workers in the Mediterranean country, as a result, can be separated into two : those who chose to enter the trade and those who were forced into it. And for an outsider looking in, the line that separates these worlds can get blurry.
In the end, the bill could hurt two populations who have very different needs. Robador cuts across a plaza with a playground full of screaming children. The other half of the street — narrower, darker, and mostly hidden — is lined with doors leading to pisos and clubs. Both are essentially brothels, but the former is privately owned and harder for police to search. Women on Robador escort their clients through these doors both day and night.
Some work exclusively in the pisos and clubs. Others, like year-old Manuela, spend hours calling after men on the street. Hers and other names in this story were changed for privacy. She sits on a curb playing Candy Crush on her phone, barely taking her eyes off the screen as she speaks.
Her dirty blonde hair is pulled up into a ponytail and her soft bangs fall right above her eyes. She puts her free hand in her pocket, keeping it warm, and rhythmically taps her black high-heeled boots. After a few minutes, she puts her phone down and looks up. Before Robador, I worked at a casa de relax the massage parlors where sex services are also offered and sometimes taking on odd jobs like house cleaning, babysitting. Now, I just work the street. I make about to 1, euros a month.
They only care about [soccer] and afterwards they go straight home. She laughs. I only go home with a client if he pays me for my services. Back inthe street was calm.
Helping victims of human trafficking
But then inthe police started cracking down. They began handing out fines for soliciting sex in public spaces, they were constantly coming after us. But since [Barcelona mayor Ada] Colau came in, the police stopped harassing us. Look, you can see them now, walking up and down the street, keeping a lookout. Two local police officers stand at the far end of the street, talking quietly to each other and watching their surroundings. While prostitution is decriminalized in Spain, some municipalities — like Barcelona — have passed laws that prohibit street prostitution.
Sincehowever, Colau passed a city ordinance that lifted the up to euro fines handed out to sex workers. They are in a very different situation than women like Manuela. They gather around a man pretending to proposition him, then rob him. Nigerian mafias traffic women into Spain through two main routes: flying them in with a fake passport, usually through Paris or London, and by land, through the Sahara Desert and into the two Spanish enclaves that border Morocco — the same treacherous route on which thousands of migrants have lost their lives trying to enter Europe in recent years.
They take an oath to pay off their debts and a failure to do so will result in either them or their families being hurt. They stand on their own; never in groups, like some of the other sex workers. Whether their pimp was close by was hard to tell, but I got the sense that they felt they were constantly being watched.
There is tension between activists about how to move forward. The situation is tricky: Decriminalizing sex work helps women like Manuela, who have some degree of agency in their profession, make a living safely. She believes that people would put more pressure at the legislative level. Fatima, 50, stands next to two other sex workers who are sitting down, huddled together against the cold. Women are constantly walking by to chat with her in Maghrebi Arabic; they kiss each other on the cheek as they greet.
There are no jobs, you have to feed your. I have to chase after the clients sometimes instead of them coming to me.
It can be hard. Some nights there are no clients.
Especially in the winter. If you know of a job, let me know. I need a job. Fresh storytelling about health, education, and social…. Some rights reserved. Medium is an open platform where million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface.
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