What Helps Prostitutes
By Sharon Smyth
Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Just off Madrid’s most expensive shopping boulevard, the Calle de Preciados, women in boots and miniskirts solicit men for sex in broken Spanish.
Spain is host to more prostitutes than the Netherlands, Italy, Britain and Greece combined. El Pais and El Mundo newspapers have branded the nation “the brothel of Europe.”
Every day about 1.5 million Spaniards and foreigners pay for sex in the country’s cities and border regions, according to Malostratos, a Madrid-based group lobbying to outlaw prostitution.
Eighty percent of Spain’s 400,000 sex workers come from places including China, Romania and Latin America, many coerced by gangs, Equality Ministry figures show. In response, the government will bring into force measures on Jan. 1 to shelter and aid prostitutes who break away from traffickers.
“It’s a delusion to say that women who prostitute themselves do so of their own free will,” said Bibiana Aido, head of the Equality Ministry. “Women are forced into it.”
As well as shelter and protection for a month for those who inform on their pimps, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government is offering trafficked women aid as part of the 44 million-euro ($59 million) plan announced this month. That includes giving sex workers access to lawyers and translators.
The government measures may be little more than a Band-Aid because of the money generated from prostitution, according to Maria Gonzalez Manchon, an advocate of women’s rights at Proyecto Esperanza, which helps trafficked prostitutes.
“Most of these women have children or families in their home countries,” Manchon said at her office in Madrid, piled with files. “Their abusers manipulate them by threatening to harm their loved ones. It’s hard to get them to inform.”
The number of hookers in Spain has surged since 1995, when profiting from prostitution was decriminalized as long as no coercion was involved. That came in tandem with a slide in the dominance of the Catholic church, which opposes prostitution. Fifty-five percent of Spaniards now skip mass, according to the Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas in Madrid.
“The problem here is an explosive mix of the lack of police and judicial resources coupled with a social permissiveness not seen elsewhere,” said Julia Ropero, who teaches criminal law at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid. “Gangs realized that the Spanish state just shrugs its shoulders at the problem.”
While the law was later toughened to criminalize anyone profiting from prostitution, police must prove that a trafficker or pimp is taking money.
The Equality Ministry said it’s looking into tightening control of sex adverts placed in newspapers, though there are no plans to ban them. In addition, the country has 12,000 brothels, according to Malostratos.
Around 69 percent of men who pay for sex go to these venues, according to a study carried out by the group, which said some men travel from other European countries to use hookers in Spain.
Cesar Torquemado three years ago closed his bridal shop in Calle de la Montera, a road adjacent to Madrid’s most expensive high street, because of the constant presence of prostitutes.
“The girls hanging around outside grabbing the crotches of grooms-to-be in front of their fiancees and leaving condoms all over the sidewalk wasn’t good for business,” he said. “There was nothing that we could do about it.”
In parallel to the new measures, the state will also pay for advertising campaigns aimed at raising awareness amongst clients, echoing efforts in countries like Ireland to draw a link between trafficking and prostitution.
The government, which will step up brothel inspections, will seize the assets of traffickers and channel them into a fund that will be used to pay for assistance offered to victims who inform on traffickers.
Maria Gonzalez Manchon, at Proyecto Esperanza, said women need at least three months in safe accommodation while cases against pimps and traffickers are heard. She also suggested the women be granted residency permits if they inform anonymously.
Workers at IPSSE, a shelter for prostitutes, which is advising the government, want a ban on prostitutes advertising their services in newspapers such as El Pais.
“Attitudes take time to change,” said Juana Santos, a social worker at the centre. “We need to make people aware that buying sex from a trafficked woman is unacceptable.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Sharon Smyth in Madrid at email@example.com.
Last Updated: December 19, 2008 04:28 EST