Despite fines, street sex trade continues in Madrid suburb

A total of 791 customers have been reported and 120 prostitutes fined using new security law

F. Javier Barroso
A prostitute speaks to a customer in Marconi ahead of an undercover car
A prostitute speaks to a customer in Marconi ahead of an undercover carálvaro garcía

Spanish police have issued some 800 fines to men soliciting prostitutes in a Madrid industrial estate over the last year, mainly by applying tough security legislatoin known as the “Gag Law.” Immigration officers have also fined 120 women during the same period for indecent exposure.

Police estimate as many as 400 women are working as prostitutes in the Colonia Marconi, an industrial estate some 10 kilometers south of the capital in the Villaverde district, most of them Romanians and Nigerians. In summer, business is slow; in general, afternoons and night are the busiest times of day.

Over the last decade, as successive City Hall administrations have forced sex workers off city center streets and the Casa de Campo park, Villaverde has become one of the main areas for prostitution Measures such as banning cars from the area after 10pm have had little impact on reducing numbers.

Provincial Brigade officers estimate as many as 400 women are working as prostitutes in the nearby industrial estate, most them of Romanian and Nigerian

But the Citizen’s Safety Act, introduced in July 2015, has provided the police with an effective tool.

“We know we can’t stop it altogether, because it’s not just a police issue, it’s more to do with social services,” says Jesús María Gómez Martín, the Chief Commissioner of the Department against the Network of Illegal Immigration and False Documentation (UCRIF).

The law has been criticized by opposition parties, United Nations experts, journalists and rights groups, who say it curtails free assembly and expression. It allows the expulsion of migrants illegally entering Spain’s two north African enclaves, sets stiff fines for protests outside parliament or strategic installations and allows authorities to fine journalists and even media organizations who distribute unauthorized photographs of police officers.

The measure was drawn up following a wave of anti-government protests in 2012 as Spain was in the throes of the financial crisis.

Police monitor the area undercover round the clock, fining women €100 who are naked or partially naked for exhibitionism.

Similarly, the new legislation allows police to move in when they see a driver stop to talk to a woman or if they see anything resembling soliciting close to children. Fines range from €601 to €30,000.

The new law has been criticised by opposition parties, United Nations experts, journalists and rights groups

After stopping a suspicious vehicle, one officers asks the driver for his license and ID while another speaks to the prostitute to ascertain whether she is working against her will. “They all tell us they are working voluntarily and that no one is making them prostitute themselves,” says one officer. Meanwhile, a fine is issued to men accused of soliciting.

The police officers say that, far from fitting a stereotype, the men they fine vary in both age and status: battered vans mix with brand new high-end vehicles. “They come from all over Madrid and the nearby provinces, with a lot from Toledo,” explains one officer.

“The women’s purses are sometimes bulging with money,” says another. “Some tell us they can earn €400 a day.” The women charge an average of €15 to €20, depending on the service they provide, saying working the streets is more lucrative than in roadside clubs, where profits have to be shared with the owners.

“Things have changed a lot,” says another official. “There were a lot more women seven or eight years ago. What we also see is that they come and go. Sometimes they work the clubs, then they take a turn on the streets. Generally, they’re really young – between 18 and 20. But there aren’t any under age.”

But it’s not easy money. The women are out 24 hours a day, rain or shine. And their working environment is a cesspit littered with used condoms and other trash. The prostitutes stand several meters apart so that the customers can see them clearly. In winter, there’s a thriving market in kindling from pallets, which the women use in impromptu braziers.

The police say curb-crawlers make all sorts of excuses to avoid being reported, insisting for example, that they were only asking the way – “How are the women going to tell them where to go when they can’t even say hello in Spanish?!” jokes one officer. Others claim it’s their girlfriend or a family member. “A lot of them say we’ll ruin their lives or it will mean divorce. But we report them anyway.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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