Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has vowed to criminalise prostitution in the country, 26 years after its decriminalisation, because it “enslaves women.” The politician has made headlines over his recent statements about the practice.
Speaking to his Socialist party at the final event of its three-day congress in Valencia, the leftist politician stated, “Out of this congress emerges a commitment I will implement. We will advance by abolishing prostitution, which enslaves women.” Sánchez—citing previous policies implemented by his government that have ‘advanced’ Spain such as tougher domestic violence laws—explained that this ban could do the same. The new legislation would seek to punish those, including clients and/or locations, for allowing and profiting off of sex work.
This is not the first time Spain’s Prime Minister has put forward this policy change. As part of his 2019 election manifesto, Sánchez pledged to criminalise the practice, stating that it was “one of the cruellest aspects of the feminisation of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women”—a decision that was used to draw in female voters. However, about two years later, no direct legislation or law has been implemented yet.
As part of this same manifesto, Sánchez’s party also vowed to crack down on surrogacy agencies (an illegal practice in Spain) claiming that it “undermines the rights of women, in particular, the most vulnerable, by treating their bodies and reproductive functions as merchandise.”
First decriminalised in 1995, with sexual exploitation and pimping remaining illegal, the industry has boomed in recent years. This largely unregulated industry, according to a United Nations (UN) study conducted in 2011, placed the country as the third biggest hub of prostitution after Thailand and Puerto Rico. A further updated study by the UN in 2016 estimated that Spain’s prostitution industry was worth around €3.7 billion (£3.1 billion, $4.2 billion). Where there is supply, there must be demand.
A survey conducted by Spain’s state-owned Social Investigations Centre (CIS) in 2009 found that one in three men in the country had paid for sexual services at least once in their lifetime. However, alternative reports from that same year implied the number could be significantly higher—reaching 39 per cent of men. A more recent report of the prominent sex work industry in Spain, roughly employing around 300,000 women, has found that the profession has contributed around £19.30 billion (€22.8 billion, $26.5 billion) to the country’s economy.
While pimping or sexual exploitation remains illegal in this unregulated industry, it must be clarified that there is currently no punishment for sex workers who are operating of their own free will, as long as activities do not occur in public places. However, concerns have continued to rise around the lack of free will in Spain’s sex work—more specifically, concerns around sexual trafficking and pimping. Spanish police discovered around 13,000 women as part of their anti-trafficking raids in 2017, concluding that at least 80 per cent of these women were forced against their will into sex work by another party.