Spain’s equality minister calls on regions to close brothels over coronavirus fears

These establishments are often registered as hotels or other businesses, meaning they have not been affected by recent closures of nightclubs and bars

A brothel on the Toledo highway in the Madrid region.
A brothel on the Toledo highway in the Madrid region.DAVID EXPÓSITO

Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero on Thursday called on the country’s regional governments to order the closure of all brothels in a bid to avoid coronavirus infections. The establishments, she said, can cause “a potential rise of positive cases that are difficult to trace.”

The central Health Ministry has also called on the regions to enforce measures that have already been established and to slow the transmission of the coronavirus in brothels, which are subject to the same controls as other establishments. Health Minister Salvador Illa did not specifically mention such businesses last week when he ordered the closure of nightclubs and bars across the country due to the rising number of coronavirus infections.

On Friday, state broadcaster RTVE reported that Castilla-La Mancha would be the first to close all brothels in the area, when it publishes a new gazette on Saturday at midnight containing a raft of measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Montero made her request via a letter sent to the regions’ equality chiefs, and called on them to take specific measures for the sex trade. “Notwithstanding our constant fight against sexual exploitation, I believe it is important for specific action to be taken in those places where prostitution is practiced,” the text reads. She suggested that measures that were put in place under the state of alarm implemented by the central government back in March be reinstated, i.e. medical attention and other resources such as rooms for the use of sex workers. “This would be a fundamental element to offer this women, after the closure of establishments – dignified alternatives that would deal with the situation,” she added.

The establishments present a major problem in terms of contact tracing should an infection be detected

Spain’s regions have the power to close or limit the opening hours of brothels, which in many cases are registered as hotels or as hostelry establishments. As such, they are not necessarily affected by the central and regional governments’ closure of nighttime establishments.

Last week, the central administration and the regions agreed 11 coordinated actions to try to stop the advance of the coronavirus, including the closure of nightclubs and bars, a ban on smoking in public when safe distances cannot be respected, and the closure of other bars and restaurants at 1am.

Brothels were not specifically mentioned in the new measures, and the establishments present a major problem in terms of contact tracing should an infection be detected. On Wednesday, the United Left (IU) party in Castilla-La Mancha called for their “immediate” closure after an outbreak of the virus was detected in a brothel in Alcázar de San Juan, in Ciudad Real province. According to the IU, the region accounts for 80% of the brothels in the country.

Prostitution was decriminalized in Spain in 1995, and is not currently illegal. But exploitation such as pimping is punishable under the country’s criminal code. Recent estimates put the revenue of the sex industry in Spain as high as €22.4 billion a year.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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