Prostitution in Spain

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Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. An oil painting depicting five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona.

Prostitution in Spain is not addressed by any specific law, but a number of activities related to it, such as pimping, are illegal.

Legal status[edit]

Prostitution (Prostitución) was decriminalised in 1995. Prostitution itself is not directly addressed in the Criminal Code of Spain, but exploitation such as pimping is illegal. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

The only article in the Code dealing specifically with adult prostitution is Artícle 188, which bans pimping:[8]

1. El que determine, empleando violencia, intimidación o engaño, o abusando de una situación de superioridad o de necesidad o vulnerabilidad de la víctima, a persona mayor de edad a ejercer la prostitución o a mantenerse en ella, será castigado con las penas de prisión de dos a cuatro años y multa de 12 a 24 meses. En la misma pena incurrirá el que se lucre explotando la prostitución de otra persona, aun con el consentimiento de la misma''.

Owning an establishment where prostitution takes place is in itself legal, but the owner cannot derive financial gain from the prostitute or hire a person to sell sex because prostitution is not considered a job and thus has no legal recognition.

Local government[edit]

Local governments differ in their approaches to both indoor and outdoor prostitution, usually in response to community pressure groups, and based on 'public safety'. [9] Most places do not regulate prostitution, but the government of Catalonia offers licenses for persons "to gather people to practice prostitution". [10] These licenses are used by brothel owners to open 'clubs', where prostitution takes place (the women are theoretically only 'gathered' to work on the premises not employed by the owner). Some places have implemented fines for street prostitution. [11] [12]



Prostitution was tolerated in Spain throughout the mediaeval period, until the 17th century and the reign of Phillip IV (1621–65) whose 1623 decree closed the mancebías (brothels) forcing the women out into the street, a very unpopular decision, but one that remained in place till the 19th century. In the reign of Isabel II (1843–1868) regulation was introduced, firstly in cities, the Disposiciones de Zaragoza (1845) and the Reglamento para la represión de los excesos de la prostitución en Madrid (1847), followed by the 1848 Penal Code. (Guerena 2003, 2008)

In 1935 during the Second Republic (1931-6) prostitution was prohibited. Once the Dictatorship (1939–75) was established, this law was repealed (1941). Spain became officially abolitionist on 18 June 1962, when the 1949 United Nations (UN) Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others was ratified by Spain, and the Decree 168 of 24 January 1963 modified the Penal Code (Código Penal) according to the Convention. In theory, this policy, in accordance with the Convention, regarded sex workers (trabajadores sexuales) as victims of sexual exploitation and advocated punishment of their exploiters rather than the workers themselves, and refused to distinguish between voluntary and coerced sex work. [13] However, there were inconsistencies, as the prostitutes were in fact treated more like criminals: under Act 16/1970 of 4 August on social menace and rehabilitation (Ley de peligrosidad y rehabilitación social) prostitutes were declared amongst those classes categorized as social evils, and could be confined to special centres or forbidden to live in specified areas. In practice however, prostitution was quietly ignored and tolerated.[14]

Although democracy was restored in 1975, it was not till the Penal Code revisions of 1995[15] that this policy was revisited, and most laws regarding prostitution were repealed, with the exception of those governing minors and those with mental health problems. This included the Act 16/1970. Further revisions in 1999 addressed trafficking, as did the 2000 Immigration Act which followed other European precedents by offering asylum to trafficked victims if they collaborated (Valiente 2003).

In 2012, at Santa Cruz de Tenerife 91% female prostitution and 9% transsexual prostitution[16]

Public opinion[edit]

Opinion remains deeply divided in Spain over prostitution, and law reform has been in a political impasse for a long time. [17] Consequently, it remains in rather a grey zone of unregulated but tolerated semi-legality. The standard debates exist as to whether it is work like any other work, or exploitation of women as espoused by groups like Malostratos. [18] Meanwhile, it thrives, and has prompted headlines such as El nuevo burdel de Europa (The New Brothel of Europe). [19] [20]

Public policy[edit]

The key instruments in order of importance are the Penal Code (Código penal) (1822-) [21] and the Immigration or Aliens Act (Ley de Extranjería de España) 2000. [22]


  • Plan Municipal de Intervención ante la Prostitución en el municipio 2011-2014, Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Migrant workers[edit]

According to a 2009 TAMPEP study, 90% of sex workers are migrants. Of all countries studied, only Italy had proportion of migrant workers at comparable level. [9] [23] About 80% of these were Latin American (mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic) [24] [25] However, the situation is changing rapidly owing to the arrival of Eastern European migrants (mainly Romania and Bulgaria) who now make up 25% compared to 50% from Latin America, under the context of Immigration to Spain. (There is also considerable cross-border traffic between Spain and Portugal and France. Equally, some 80% of Spanish national workers work outside Spain, mainly from economic necessity. [9])

As in other countries in Western Europe, there is concern over the presence of migrant workers on the streets and claims that many of them were coerced. In 2008 the Spanish Government announced plans to aid women who had been trafficked.[26]

There are organisations working with migrant women, including Proyecto Esperanza[27] and shelters such as IPSSE (Instituto para la Promoción de Servicios Especializados).

From 2012 to September 2013, 544 prostitutes were identified in 138 inspections in brothels of Asian prostitutes in Barcelona.[28]

On 30 November 2012, a woman from Paraguay, 34 years old, was arrested in Cuenca, when she was working in a brothel with her daughter.


Organisations working with sex workers in Spain include APRAMP (Associacion para la Prevención, Reinserción y Atención de la Mujer Prostituida) [29] while sex workers' rights organisations include Hetaira (Madrid), [30] as well as regional organisations such as SICAR Asturias, [31] AMTTTSE (Asociación de Mujeres, Transexuales y Travestis como Trabajadoras Sexuales en España, Málaga) and CATS (Comité de Apoyo a las Trabajadoras del Sexo, Murcia).

Spanish sex workers continue to be concerned about their lack of protection and in July 2011 petitioned the Minister of Health (Leire Pajín). [32] A demonstration is planned for November 6, 2011 in Madrid, and a communique has been released setting out sex workers' complaints and demands. [33]

Social history[edit]

Prostitution in Spain was highly sectored, with at one end the damas cortesanas of high society, [34] and the mistresses of the bourgeoisie and barraganas, the concubines of the clergy. (Harrison)

Sex work in Spanish culture[edit]

La Maja Desnuda c. 1800, oil on canvas, 98 * 191 cm (38.58 * 75.2 in), Prado, Madrid

Goya (1746–1828) frequently commented on the place of prostitution in Spanish high society [35] such as satirising the church's involvement in the trade, for profit. Best known though are his controversial Majas. [36] Other examples are Murillo's Four Figures on a Step and Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (illustrated).

In literature, Cervantes discusses prostitution in Don Quixote,[37] and the subject is found throughout 19th and 20th century Spanish literature.[38]

Sex work celebrities in Spain[edit]

La señora Rius (see photograph) is a Barcelona celebrity and Madam who told her story in Julián Peiró's La Sra. Rius, de moral distraída (Comanegra, Barcelona 2008). [39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fotheringham, Alasdair (5 December 2010). "Spain, the world capital of prostitution?". London: Independent. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  2. ^ "Prostitution thrives on edge of legality in Spain". Taipei Times. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  3. ^ "5 arrested in Spain for male prostitution ring". CNN. 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  4. ^ Infante, Anelise (2009-09-08). "Woman forced back into prostitution". BBC. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  5. ^ Burgen, Stephen (2010-07-16). "Spain to ban sex adverts from national newspapers". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  6. ^ "Union backs Spain's sex workers". BBC. 2005-05-18. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  7. ^ Tremlett, Giles (2006-06-24). "Europe's brothel - in a corner of Spain". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  8. ^ 1. Whosoever by using violence, intimidation or deception, or abuse of a position of superiority or of the vulnerability of the victim, causes an adult person to engage in prostitution or remain in it, is punished by a prison sentence of two to four years and a fine of 12 to 24 months (i.e. fine days set at rate depending on financial circumstances). The same penalty shall be incurred by one who profits from the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.'[ Noticias Juridicas: Ley Orgánica 10/1995, de 23 de noviembre, del C��digo Penal. CAPÍTULO V. DE LOS DELITOS RELATIVOS A LA PROSTITUCIÓN Y LA CORRUPCIÓN DE MENORES. 188]
  9. ^ a b c "Sex Work in Europe. A mapping of the prostitution scene in 25 European countries. TAMPEP 2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  10. ^ "Europe's Brothel - in a Corner of Spain". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  11. ^ "Granada brings in hefty fines for street prostitution". 2009-10-22. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  12. ^ "Seville to follow Catalan lead with bid to regulate prostitution". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  13. ^ Carracedo Bullido, Rosario (2001). Legislación penal española (Spanish penal law). In Dirección General de la Mujer de la Comunidad de Madrid (ed.) Simposio internacional sobre prostitución y tráfico de mujeres con fines de explotación sexual (International Conference on Prostitution and Traffic of Women with the Purpose of Their Sexual Exploitation). Madrid: Dirección General de la Mujer de la Comunidad de Madrid: pp.149-59.
  14. ^ Fotheringham, Alasdair (2010-12-05). "Spain, the world capital of prostitution?". The Independent. London. 
  15. ^ Peter Pierson. The history of Spain. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. p. 11
  16. ^ ABC
  17. ^ "Spain divided over semi-legal prostitution. Digital Journal Aug 29, 2007". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  18. ^ "Malostratos". Malostratos. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  19. ^ El nuevo burdel de Europa. El País Sept 26, 2005
  20. ^ "Sex trade growing in Spain amid ambiguous prostitution laws. Deccan Herald Oct 29, 2010". 2010-10-29. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  21. ^ "Official text of Penal Code". 2011-01-21. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  22. ^ "Official text of Immigration Act". 2011-01-21. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  23. ^ Rettman, Andrew. "EUobserver / Romanian sex workers most prevalent in EU. EU Observer Jan 26 2010". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  24. ^ Trullen Gas J. Trends in female prostitution in Castellon (Spain). Int Conf AIDS. 2004 Jul 11-16; 15: abstract no. C10698
  25. ^ See also Laura Oso, 2003, 2010
  26. ^ Spain Targets Sex Traffickers With Aid to Prostitutes Bloomburg 19 December 2008
  27. ^ "Proyecto Esperanza". Proyecto Esperanza. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  28. ^ El País
  29. ^ "APRAMP". APRAMP. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  30. ^ "Hetaira". 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  31. ^ "SICAR". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  32. ^ Pide a la ministra Leire Pajín que escuche a las trabajadoras del sexo. Actuable July 2011
  33. ^ Hetaira: Comunicado aprobado en la asamblea de trabajadoras del sexo de Madrid del 1171072011
  34. ^ "An. 2. María Cristina Martínez Soto. Cortesanas en el Madrid barroco. Congr. Bras. Hispanistas Oct. 2002". 1990-01-06. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  35. ^ "A Burnham. RELIGIOUS SATIRE IN 18TH CENTURY SPAIN: FRANCISCO GOYA'S LOS CAPRICHOS. Concordia Undergraduate Journal of Art History". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  36. ^ "Hooker heroes: Painted ladies". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  37. ^ Nadeau, Carolyn A. (1997). "Recovering the Hetairae: prostitution in Don Quijote I". Cervantes. 17 (2): 4–24. ISSN 0277-6995. 
  38. ^ Franz, Thomas R. (December 2003). "Demythologizing the Presentation of Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Spanish Narrative: A Virtual Impossibility". Hispania. 86 (4): 733–41. doi:10.2307/20062921. JSTOR 20062921. 
  39. ^ "La Sra. Rius, de moral distraída". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 

Other sources[edit]




  • Carmen Y. Hsu. Courtesans in the Literature of Spanish Golden Age (Kassel: Reichenberger, 2002)


External links[edit]