Ban Sex Work Because It ‘Enslaves’ Women, Spain’s Prime Minister Says

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a plan to abolish sex work, but advocacy groups say this will only make the industry more dangerous.
October 18, 2021, 1:33pm
A Mexican sex worker in Madrid in 2020. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images
A Mexican sex worker in Madrid in 2020. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Sex work will be abolished in Spain as it “enslaves” women, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said, but advocacy groups fear a ban will only endanger women more. 

Sánchez told the conference of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) on Sunday, "Out of this congress emerges a commitment I will implement. We will advance by abolishing prostitution, which enslaves women.”

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The announcement is in line with commitments made in the party’s 2019 manifesto that hoped to appeal to women voters.

The manifesto pledge, included after lobbying from women’s groups, said that “prostitution... is one of the cruellest aspects of the feminisation of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women.”

Sex work advocacy groups in Spain say that a ban will only make the industry more dangerous. 

A spokesperson for the European Sex Workers Rights Alliance, which represent more than 100 organisations working with sex workers, told VICE World News: “This approach which consists in criminalising clients and third parties of sex workers has had a disastrous impact on sex workers' lives in all countries which have implemented it. The situation of France, Spain's closest neighbour should be a clear warning: increased violence and precarity and poorer health outcomes.

“COVID-19 has dramatically impacted sex workers all over the world, including in Spain where many sex workers face destitution and homelessness. Pedro Sánchez priorities should be to meet representatives of sex workers communities, discuss their needs and develop joint programmes and policies that would protect them,” the spokesperson said. “This call for abolition and criminalisation will only endanger sex workers, in particular those most vulnerable to violence and exploitation.”

In Spain, sex work was decriminalised in 1995, however, some acts associated with sex work are criminalised, such as “pimping,” or working as a proxy between a sex worker and a client. Sex work is not recognised as work and has no legal status. 

According to a study from the University of Comillas in January, the industry is worth approximately 0.35 percent of the country’s GDP, which currently equates to €4,350 million (£3,672 million).

TAMPEP, the the European Network for the Promotion of Rights and Health Among Migrant Sex Workers, estimates that 80 to 90 percent of sex workers in Spain are migrant women, coming from Latin America, Eastern European countries like Bulgaria or Romania, and some African countries like Nigeria.