New feature: How to get an activist movement to keep women in prostitution

// 17 March 2008

What use are sex worker groups that give out condoms and showers, but can’t help women who want to exit prostitution? Ekis reports from Barcelona on prostitution and the campaign for legalisation

Anyone who visits Barcelona will realise that street life is like no other European city. Clowns and people dressed as Napoleon are a common sight, squats pop up in every block, theatre and music seems to grow out of the pavement. But this is about to end, if the authorities have their way. The city council is running a campaign called civismo, which targets graffiti, squatters, beggars, buskers and drunken behaviour in public places.

In the Raval area of Barcelona, a poor and bohemian part of town, people hate the civismo campaign. Many inhabitants live in buildings about to be demolished and eek out a living from recycling furniture, clothes and leftover food. Pakistani people own the restaurants and the call centres where you can make cheap calls back home. Large bits of card in the windows proclaim: Equador 10 cents a minute, Russia 15 cents, Romania 10 cents, Pakistan seven cents. Clocks in Raval are more likely to tell the time in these places than in Spain. Beautifully embellished wall murals cover the houses. Banners hang from the windows: this house is occupied. This is territory where the anarchist consciousness is still strong, like an inheritance from the civil war. Americans, Scots and Italians also live here, and they all say the same thing when asked what they are doing in Spain: they’ve come for the free way of life.

But there’s also another phenomenon that pervades life in the area: prostitution. It is here because it has been driven out of the more affluent neighbourhoods and because the inhabitants of Raval don’t have enough power or influence to be able to do anything about it. Wealthier men can come here, get it done with and leave without risking discovery. The presence of prostitution is evident on every street, always demarcated by ethnicity. The African street, the South American street, the Romanian street. Different mafias control the various neighbourhoods and hire out bits of the streets to pimps who stand guard and control the girls. Many of girls have been brought here by the mafia under the pretense of marriage, which is a way of getting under-age girls over the border without their parents’ permission. On arrival, their passports are confiscated and they’re forced to work on the streets. Regardless of where you’re from, the price is the same: €30 plus the bed. This can be bargained down to €20. The competition is tough and those who try for €40 will be rejected without mercy.

Read on here

Comments From You

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 17 March 2008 at 10:06 am

What a fantastic article. The explanation of how “sex work” is different from other work – especially coming from a woman who has experience in this area and chose to do it for the money – is paricularly insightful and valuable. I actually don’t have much to add, I agree with so much of what has been written here, but I think it’s worth reiterating the point that focusing on choice and the individual fails to take into account the wider picture: the vast majority of prostitution is controlled and created by men, for men, at women’s expense.

The reason a minority of women can make good money to fund a high quality lifestyle (in consumerist, materialistic terms) is because women are equated with sex and because men feel they have a right to sex/women. If we change gender roles, if we change society as most feminist want to, we can change this and end women and girls’ suffering in prostitution.

Making prostitutes’ daily lives safer is very important, and the work that sex workers’ rights groups do in this respect is valuable and should be supported. But this is only a short term measure, putting a plaster on the wound – we need exit startegies, we need to tackle drug addiction and poverty and we need to change society’s view and understanding of men and women.

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