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Harlem remembrance for lives lost to police brutality. Courtesy of Jules Antonio.

Jynx Betancourt , Sports & Lit-Art Editor

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pledges to outlaw sex work in the country, arguing that it “enslaves women.” He sealed his vow during a three-day Congress of his ruling Socialist Workers’ Party on Sunday, October 17th, while reciting his 2019 election manifesto, which aims to tackle social exclusion and inequality.
Prostitution has been decriminalized in Spain since 1995, and over the last decades, this industry has grown at an alarming rate. According to a United Nations report from 2011, Spain ranked third among the biggest capitals of sex work in the world. Recent estimates suggest that there is a workforce of 300,000 people and hundreds of licensed brothels stretched over Spanish soil.
Prostitution has long been a major object of controversy in Spain – the so-called European hub of the sex market. Critics reason that the massive scale of prostitution contributes to a rise in human trafficking, sex slavery, pimping, and other crimes. According to The Guardian, the Spanish Government currently estimates that 90% of women working in prostitution could be victims of trafficking or under the control of a third party.
These anti-prostitution groups point at the major inconsistency within Spain’s legal system. Spanish law allows individuals to willfully commercialize their sex services without punishment as long as it occurs in a private space. But pimping or acting as a proxy between a sex worker and a client is illegal. Essentially, this means that businesses can openly launch clubs that operate like brothels, but are not authorized to employ sex workers directly; rather the latter have to rent rooms to fulfill their work – which deprives them of any legal protection or benefits.
These stipulations create a hostile environment for sex workers in Spain, which ultimately renders them more vulnerable to trafficking as it gives them no safety net in a profession that’s considered very hazardous. In legal terms, prostitution is defined as the performance of sexual acts in exchange for money, while sex trafficking is when a person exploits another with the intention of profiting off of their prostitution by way of fraud, force, or coercion.
However, anti-prostitution advocates claim that despite these distinctions, legalization increases the likelihood of women and young girls being moved, detained, or transported by a trafficker. Sánchez, for one, expressed his sentiments on prostitution, “[It] is one of the cruelest aspects of the feminization of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women.”
The close link between prostitution and trafficking can be easily spotted in Spain’s sex trade landscape. Sex traffickers have carefully developed a “business plan” to lure women into their trap. According to El Pais, females in desperate need of money – commonly due to crippling systemic factors, such as socioeconomic background, lack of legal status, or race – rent rooms in prostitution-oriented apartments hosted by a madam (experienced sex worker) for the cost of approximately €250 a week, and are only allowed to keep 50% of what they make. This payment must also cover necessities like food, internet connection, and phone lines. Once these women have been trained, they’re sent to clubs where they can exercise their jobs.
These women are originally told that they will reside in private rented properties to work for a brief period of time, just until they earn enough to set out in the world by themselves. But the reality is that they are preyed on and manipulated by the Spanish mafia to become valuable additions to the booming sex industry – they rent to have somewhere to stay and work to sustain themselves, however, many become indebted, and have no virtual means of exiting the sex trafficking world without getting themselves harmed or killed in the process.
Many believe that Sánchez’s abolition project will finally put an end to the dangers posed by prostitution. Rocio Mora, director of Apramp, an organization that protects women in prostitutionA, is one of these people. Mora told VOA News that “There is now a need for a comprehensive law that criminalizes those who profit from what is a form of violence against women.”
Nonetheless, his promise also faced resistance from critics who assert that abolition-based policies will probably be fruitless and only make prostitution a more clandestine industry than it already is. They maintain that by burying this market underground, the Spanish government would struggle even further to aid victims of sex trafficking and identify their perpetrators. For example, Nacho Pardos, a member of CATS, a charity that offers support to sex workers in southeastern Spain, told BBC News, “If you throw people engaged in prostitution out of the establishments and flats that they work, then they’re going to end up on the street.”
As of right now, it’s difficult to determine the exact effect that the PM’s plans will have on the Spanish prostitution market. While Sánchez and his supporters continue to push for changes in the Spanish law, others fear that abolition could provoke a menacing reaction from the mafia that will only hurt sex trafficking victims in the long run.