Prostitution in Portugal

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Prostitution in Portugal is legal, but it is illegal for a third party to profit from, promote, encourage or facilitate the prostitution of another.[1] Consequently, organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings or other forms of pimping) is prohibited.[2][3]

Although the number of workers involved in the industry is notoriously difficult to estimate, in the mid-2000s, the number of female prostitute was estimated at 28,000, of whom at least 50% were foreigners.[4][5]

Legal framework[edit]

The legal status of prostitution in Portugal has changed several times. In 1949 a harsh law dealing with sexually transmitted diseases came into effect placing further restrictions on the registration of workers and forbidding the opening of any new houses. Existing houses could be closed if thought to provide a threat to public health. An inquiry at the time estimated that there were 5,276 workers and 485 houses, and appeared confined to the major urban areas of Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Evora. However it was recognised that registered workers represented only a portion of the total population. This law was intended to eradicate prostitution.[6]

In 1963, prostitution became illegal.[7] At that time brothels and other premises were closed. This was an abolitionist position ending the prior era of regulation, including regular medical checks on sex workers. The law had little effect on the extent of prostitution, and on January 1, 1983 this law was partially repealed making not sex work itself, but merely its exploitation and facilitation illegal. Prosecution was still possible under offences against public decency and morals, but this was infrequent, although regulation was in the hands of local authorities and enforcement was variable. Thus this could be considered as an example of 'toleration'. Male prostitution has never been recognized.

Further amendments occurred in 1995 and 1998. The Code was most recently amended in 2001,[8] specifically to deal with increasing concerns around child prostitution and human trafficking. According to a Portuguese Government spokesperson "The Governmentls opinion was that prostitution was not a crime. Neither were the prostitutes' clients considered to be criminals, but those who exploited prostitutes and gained profits from their activities were considered criminals under the law."[9] In its 2005 review of European legislation, the European Parliament report categorised Portugal as 'abolitionist'.[10] That is to say that neither indoor nor outdoor work are either prohibited nor regulated, but nevertheless there are restrictions on working conditions which arise from custom, not law, but are enforced by police. There are areas in which outdoor sex workers cannot work, and restrictions on where they may work indoors. For instance one cannot rent an apartment to a sex worker. The law technically only applies to third parties, not workers or clients, addressing pimping, procuring and facilitating.

Article 170 (Lenocínio, Living off Immoral Earnings) of the Penal Code reads:

1 - Who, professionally or for profit, promotes, encourages or facilitates the practice by another person of prostitution or sexual acts of relief shall be punished with imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years.

2 - If the agent uses violence, serious threat, deception, fraud, abuse of authority resulting from a hierarchical relationship of dependence, economic or work, or takes advantage of mental incapacity of the victim or any other situation of particular vulnerability, they shall be punished with imprisonment of 1 to 8 years.

Several other prostitution-related activities are widely disapproved of and prohibited, such as human trafficking, and child prostitution.[11]


In Portugal, prostitution occurs in various settings. In street prostitution, the prostitute solicits customers while waiting at street corners or walking alongside a street. Prostitution occurs in some massage parlors, bars and pubs. There are "unofficial" brothels which are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution, but disguised as discos, hostels or restaurants. There is a form of prostitution often sheltered under the umbrella of escort agencies, who supply attractive escorts for social occasions; these escorts provide additional sexual services for the clients.[4] Expensive and young prostitutes that advertise on the web and in the news stands can be easily found in the major cities and most crowded tourist resorts. Prostitution can also take place in the prostitute's apartment which may be located anywhere, from the suburban areas to expensive flats in the main town centers. Prostitution services' contacts are easily found in many magazines, newspapers and websites.

Both heterosexual and homosexual male prostitution also occurs in various settings, ranging from gay bars to discos and beach resorts. A large share of the males engaged in prostitution in Portugal are also foreigners, especially from Brazil and Africa. The concept of gigolo is used and is usually linked to male prostitutes with an exclusively female clientele. Most big cities have an area where homosexual male prostitutes regularly make themselves available to male potential clients cruising by in cars.

Lisbon's Eduardo VII Park[12] reached notability for all kinds of prostitution, including homosexual and underage prostitution, as well as the Monsanto Forest Park, usually by nighttime.[4]

Transsexual and transgender prostitution also exists, particularly of Brazilian transvestites, namely at street level in certain designated areas (for example the Conde Redondo area in Lisbon), but also through web venues.

Increasingly one of the main venues for communication of prostitution in Portugal, as with other countries, is the Internet.


Like in other conservative countries where female premarital sex was frowned upon, it was a tradition in Portugal, before the 1970s, for a young man to initiate his sexual life with a prostitute,[13] sometimes with the father guiding that visit.[14] This was in spite of the fact that most Portuguese people are Roman Catholic Christians, for whom premarital sex is not permitted. Today most men initiate their sexual life at a younger age than in the past, and usually in the context of a relationship, rather than with a prostitute.


In the 19th century prostitution was largely contained in well known Bohemian neighbourhoods such as Bairro Alto, Alfama, and Mouraria.[15]

Prostitution become much more visible since the early 1990s, with a migratory wave from Brazil and Eastern European countries. However these claims have been disputed.[16][17]

Press sources suggest that half of the women engaged in prostitution in Portugal are foreigners, especially from Brazil and Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria), but also from Africa and some Asian countries.[4][5]

Human trafficking, including trafficking of underage persons, has also become a growing issue for the authorities. Under the Portuguese penal code, trafficking in women is a crime punishable by two to eight years' imprisonment.

Although the number of workers involved in the industry is notoriously difficult to estimate, in the mid-2000s, the number of female prostitutes was estimated at 28,000, of whom at least 50% were foreigners.[4][5]

Resident groups continue to complain about what they see as an increase in visible prostitution.[18][19]

As in most other European countries, opinions on sex work and its regulation are sharply divided. For instance a representative to the 2002 UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women stated that "there was no such thing as voluntary prostitution. About 90 per cent of prostitutes who had participated in a recent study had said that they wanted to change their lives. In many cases, the subject of prostitution was not a subject of women’s choice, but of violence and trafficking in people."[9] Ethnographical research on street prostitution, done by Alexandra Oliveira, of University of Porto [20] has led the researcher to argue that prostitution should be legalized to improve the situation of the women.[3][21][22][23]

Some Portuguese prostitutes also married Chinese triad members from Macau before China took it back from Portugal, providing them with access to Portuguese citizenship.[24]

During the 19th century[25] and in contemporary times, Portuguese prostitutes have operated in Macau.[26]


  1. ^ Archivi Archivi del Novecento: Prostitution in Portugal - The legal framework
  2. ^ U.S. Departement of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2007 Country Report on Human Rights in Portugal: "Pimping and running brothels are illegal and legally punishable".
  3. ^ a b Nuno Nodin et al. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Portugal. 8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors
  4. ^ a b c d e João Saramago, Estrangeiras dominam prazer, Correio da Manhã (17th March 2005)
  5. ^ a b c Sex work and Sexual Exploitation in the European Union - The Situation in Portugal.
  6. ^ Tovar de Lemos, A. Inquérito acerca da Prostitução e Doencas venéreas em Portugal, 1950. Editorial Imperio, Lisboa 1953
  7. ^ Law of Sept 19 1962, law 44579, made the practice of prostitution illegal from January 1st 1963
  8. ^ Law 99/2001 of 25.08.2001
  9. ^ a b UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women 2002
  10. ^ Study on national legislation on prostitution and the trafficking in women and children. European Parliament 2005
  11. ^ UN Refugee Agency: Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Portugal
  12. ^ (Portuguese) Prostituição de menores é o último acto das longas noites do Parque, Público (September 3, 2010)
  13. ^ Nuno Nodin; with Sara Moreira & Ana Margarida Ourô (1997). Robert T. Francoeur, ed. "Portugal (República Portuguesa) 5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors – First Sexual Intercourse and Premarital Sex". The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Volume I – IV. New York, New York: The Continuum Publishing Company. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  14. ^ Nuno Nodin; with Sara Moreira & Ana Margarida Ourô (1997). Robert T. Francoeur, ed. "Portugal (República Portuguesa) 8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors – B. Prostitution". The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Volume I – IV. New York, New York: The Continuum Publishing Company. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  15. ^ Pais, J. M. A prostituição e a Lisboa Boémia do século XIX aos inícios do século XX [Prostitution and Bohemian Lisbon from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century]. Editorial Querco, Lisbon 1985
  16. ^ Padilla B. Integration of Brazilian immigrants in Portuguese Society: Problems and Possibilities. SOCIUS, Lisboa 2005
  17. ^ Catarino C. New Female Migrants in Portugal: A State of the Art. European Commission 2007 (pdf)
  18. ^ Lisbon residents concerned by prostitution. The Portugal News OnLine Jul. 12 2008
  19. ^ Quarteira protesting prostitution. The Portugal News OnLine Aug. 30 2008
  20. ^ Investigar a prostituição "experienciando todos os aspectos" Jornalismo Porto Net Sept 1 2009
  21. ^ Oliveria A. As vendedoras de ilusões : estudo sobre prostituição, alterne e striptease. Editorial Notícias, Lisboa 2004
  22. ^ A prostituição é uma escolha Jornal de Notícias Aug 30 2009
  23. ^ "Prostituição devia ser legal para ser socialmente aceite" Jornalismo Porto Net Sept 1 2009
  24. ^ Kenneth Hugh De Courcy; John De Courcy (1978). Intelligence digest, Volume 1996. Intelligence International Ltd. Retrieved 29 February 2012. Triads in Portugal. Sources in Lisbon say that Chinese triad gangs from the Portuguese colony of Macau are setting up in Portugal ahead of the handover of Macau to China in 1999. Security sources fear that as many as 1000 triad members could settle in Portugal. They are already involved in securing Portuguese citizenship for Macau residents by arranging marriages of convenience with Portuguese prostitutes. 
  25. ^ Melissa Hope Ditmore (2006). Melissa Hope Ditmore, ed. Encyclopedia of prostitution and sex work, Volume 1 (illustrated ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 212. ISBN 0-313-32969-9. Retrieved 29 February 2012. By 1845, the total number of prostitutes increased, to 123. Most were Chinese, with a minority of them being Portuguese (the Portuguese colony of Macao was near), or other nationalities. At those times, prostitutes concentrated in the 
  26. ^ Roy Rowan (2008). Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist's Firsthand Account of the 1946-9 Chinese Revolution (illustrated ed.). Globe Pequot. p. 172. ISBN 1-59921-477-6. Retrieved 29 February 2012. The Central was Macao's glittering gambling casino, packed every night with Portuguese prostitutes, high rollers from Hong Kong, and hundreds of Chinese playing fan tan, their favorite card game.