Calls in Spain to Legalize Prostitution | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.01.1970
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Calls in Spain to Legalize Prostitution

One of Spain's largest trade unions wants the government to regulate prostitution and grant prostitutes labor rights like other workers. It's a divisive issue, with feminists and prostitutes on both sides of the debate.

Some in Spain want to give them new rights

Some in Spain want to give them new rights

There are up to 400,000 women working in the sex trade in Spain. According to the union Comisiones Obreras over ninety percent are immigrants. The supporters of new regulation around the sex industry argue that most prostitutes work in virtual slavery and deserve basic rights and protection.

But the issue of how to deal with prostitution divides feminists, social workers and governments all over Europe. Here in Spain, prostitution isn't illegal, but nor is it legal. In Germany, sex workers do have legal rights, while in Sweden rather than prosecuting prostitutes, authorities pursue those who employ prostitutes and the clients who use them.

The issue is a hot topic in Spain now, not least because it is tied up with Europe's illegal immigration problem.

Changing face of prostitution

At a conference in Spain called Workers Rights in the Sex Industry, Carmen Bravo, a spokesperson for the Comisiones Obreras union said the issue of prostitution has radically changed due to global migration.

Prostituierte in Budapest

Increasing numbers of women, without husbands or partners, are immigrating from Africa or Latin America to countries like Spain. Many, according to Bravo, have no option but to work as prostitutes and are forced to live practically like slaves. Today, only two percent of Spain's estimated 400,000 prostitutes are Spanish.

Still, there's no consensus on what to do about the matter.

Rhut Mestre is a legal researcher who works with migrants, women and sex workers. Rather than simply regulate and legalize the whole sex industry, she wants prostitutes to be given legal rights.

"I am not for regulating sex work, I am for recognizing rights to sex workers which is not the same," she said. "I do not want to give power to the owners of clubs."

That is, sex clubs run by those who exploit prostitutes for money, such as pimps, shouldn't have their trade receive legal status, she thinks.

Sexual abuse

But Silvia Cuerdas of the Spanish Feminist Party believes that legalizing prostitution is the same as legalizing sexual abuse.

"In this society we are talking about eradicating sexual harassment at work or at home, the problem of domestic violence," she said. "So we can't legalize a practice where all those things happen."

Frauenhandel in Russland

Cuerdas says that statistics show that only five percent of prostitutes are willingly practicing their trade and the rest have been forced into it.

She wants women who are prostitutes to be given better work options and thinks a model like that in Sweden - prosecuting pimps and clients of prostitutes - would work in Spain.

Prostitutes think otherwise

But several prostitutes at the conference did not agree. Carolina, from Ecuador, has worked on the street as a prostitute for eight years. She wants to be able to work without interference from the police or social discrimination. She says it is time the government acted to give her the same rights as other workers.

Her colleague, Joanna, also at the conference, insisted that the majority of prostitutes she knows are in the business of their own accord. She said that she is her own boss.

But many feminists argue that this isn't a view that represents the majority of prostitutes. They say that if these women really had other options, they would choose other professions.

At the moment Spain's government isn't taking a position in this contentious debate. But with prostitutes backed by feminist groups and powerful labor unions demanding action, the government is coming under increasing pressure to take action sooner rather than later.

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