MADRID (AP) — Protesters including brothel owners and sex workers demonstrated Monday in front of the Spanish Parliament over a bill that would penalize prostitution customers and sex club owners or pimps with sentences up to 4 years in prison.
The bill backed by the ruling left-wing PSOE party proposes broadening the definition of pimping, not making the exploitation of a prostitute necessary but a mere trade relation. For the first time in Spain, it would also penalize customers.
Demonstrators wore face masks and used bright red umbrellas to conceal their identities.
“We ask the socialist party to withdraw the bill, that implies an actual abolition of prostitution and condemns us to work underground,” said Susana Pastor, the president of the Platform against Abolition. She owns an apartment in Valencia where women rent rooms to offer sexual services.
“I came here today to protect my job,” said one demonstrator, Sandra, a single mother who has done sex work for 12 years.
But the new sex worker union Otras didn’t back Monday’s protest because sex club owners arranged it.
“They don’t look after sex workers’ rights at all,” Otras secretary general Concha Borrell told The Associated Press.
Borrell demands legal contracts for sex workers and estimates there are around 200,000 in Spain.
Other groups, including some feminists, oppose normalizing prostitution as a regulated trade.
Charo Carracedo, lawyer and president of PAP, which advocates for the full abolition of prostitution, told the AP that the new bill is a huge step for the country but should come with provisions to give vulnerable women better access to jobs or subsidies.
“It’s essential to offer alternatives to prostitution survivors,”Carracedo said.
Both Otras and the sex business owners deny the government’s data that says 90% of the sex work in Spain is forced. Police say 491 victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation were rescued in Spain in 2021.
On a European level, the European Parliament estimates there are up to 180,000 trafficking victims exploited in prostitution and the industry generates 10.8 billion euros ($10.9 billion) a year in the bloc.
Spain is considered to have one of the laxest legal frameworks for prostitution in Europe, only punishing when exploitation or abuse can be proven. The proposed bill would punish both clients and enablers. It still needs to pass through parliament.
Spain has also recently forbidden ads for prostitution.