First Spanish lobby for sex workers created in Catalonia

New organization aims to force politicians to address rights and needs of prostitutes

Alfonso L. Congostrina
The presentation of the first lobby in Spain for sex workers.
The presentation of the first lobby in Spain for sex workers.Juan Barbosa

A new organization that aims specifically to lobby the political parties of Catalonia on behalf of the region’s sex workers has been launched in Barcelona. On March 26, several associations representing prostitutes and others in the sex industry in the northeastern region announced the formation of the Assembly of Sex Work Pro-rights Activists of Catalonia. The initiative is backed by CUP, a small, left-wing party that supports Catalan independence, as well as Barcelona en Comú, the coalition of parties and civic associations that is putting forward its own candidate for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections in the city.

The violence we face doesn’t come from our clients, but from the institutions that govern on behalf of the moral minority”

The lobby brings together associations representing prostitutes, along with the CGT labor union, women’s rights groups, and an Italian feminist movement. “We are the most discriminated against and criminalized group of women in society, and from now on, nobody else is going to speak for us,” said its spokeswoman, writer, prostitute and activist Montse Neira, at the launch.

Paula Vip, the head of Aprosex, another organization representing sex workers, blamed politicians for failing to address the issue of prostitution: “The violence we face doesn’t come from our clients, but from the institutions that govern on behalf of the moral minority. From now on, we prostitutes will be organized, convinced, ready to fight, and ready for war. All women who charge for sex must do so freely, because otherwise, it’s not prostitution, it’s slavery.”

Vip also called for support for the prostitutes who work in central Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood, who are being forced out of the area as part of a clean up campaign.

Paying for sex is not illegal under Spanish legislation, but living off the earnings of a prostitute is

Prostitution lies in a regulatory limbo in Spain, with no overarching legislation. Paying for sex is not illegal, but living off the earnings of a prostitute is.

Brothels, however, mostly operate within the law, and are a common sight in city centers and alongside highways.

What is seen as a growing problem has prompted regional authorities to explore different ways to get the sex trade off the streets. In 2012, the Catalan regional government passed legislation allowing police to fine prostitutes working the streets and their customers.

Fines for street prostitution

A. L. C.

Assumpta Vilá, Barcelona City Hall’s Ombudswoman, says that legislation introduced in 2012 aimed at ending street prostitution in the Raval neighborhood by allowing police to fine customers and sex workers had failed, and that a working group to hammer out a new strategy was needed.

Several prostitutes from the Assembly of Sex Work Pro-rights Activists of Catalonia criticized Vilá’s suggestion as too little, too late in the wake of what one woman called the “exclusionist policies of the institutions.”

Laia Serra, a lawyer who works with prostitutes, criticized the Spanish government of “not guaranteeing the rights of prostitutes to dignity, safety, and to not being exploited,” saying the time had come to take the matter before international human rights organizations.

Some sex workers at the event also criticized feminists who support banning prostitution. “To those ladies who offer us the opportunity of leaving this profession to work as cleaners I would suggest that instead they give up their jobs in exchange for mine,” said one woman.

Earlier this month, City Hall bought a building in the area where around 30 prostitutes lived and worked and then boarded it up.

But Madrid’s regional government has said it doesn’t intend to follow Catalonia’s lead, although it has steadily pushed street prostitution out of the city center and the capital’s parks. Much of it now takes place in an industrial estate in the Vicalvaro district in southeastern Madrid.

Paula Ezquerra of the Putas Indignadas, a collective that represents prostitutes, accused Barcelona’s mayor, Xavier Trias, of forcing women off the streets of the city, denying many of them their only way to earn a living.

Apramp, an NGO that works with prostitutes, says around 90 percent of prostitutes in Spain are from abroad, but adds that as the economic crisis has worsened over the last five years, the number of Spaniards working in the sex industry is growing.

“Our objective is for society and politicians to recognize sex work as simply a way to earn a living that should come with certain rights,” said one speaker at the launch in Barcelona on March 26, calling for the repeal of a 2012 law in the city that allows police to fine prostitutes and their clients. “Prostitutes do not live in the sewers, we have our lives, we are free, we have our rights, and we’re prepared to fight for them,” said Paula Vip at the conclusion of the event.

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