Jump to content

Prostitution in Spain

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. An oil painting depicting five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona.

Prostitution in Spain is not addressed by any specific law, but a number of activities related to it, such as pimping, are illegal. In 2016, UNAIDS estimated there to be 70,268 prostitutes in the country,[1] although other estimates put the number higher. Most prostitutes in the country are immigrants.[2][3][4][dubiousdiscuss] The sex industry in Spain is estimated to be worth €3.7 billion.[5]

Legal status[edit]

Prostitution was decriminalized in 1995. Prostitution itself is not directly addressed in the Criminal Code of Spain, but exploitation such as pimping is illegal.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

The only article in the Code dealing specifically with adult prostitution is Artícle 188, which bans pimping:[13]

Whoever causes a person of legal age to engage in prostitution or to continue to do so, with the use of violence, intimidation or deception, or by abusing a position of power or the dependency or vulnerability of the victim, shall be punished with a prison sentence of two to four years and a fine from 12 to 24 months. Gaining profit from the prostitution of another shall incur the same penalty, even with the consent of that person.[note 1]

Owning an establishment where prostitution takes place is in itself legal, but the owner cannot derive financial gain from the prostitute or hire a person to sell sex because prostitution is not considered a job and thus has no legal recognition.

Prostitution in Spain is less regulated than in many European countries. However, the advertising of prostitution has been made illegal and in 2022 a bill was put forward in the Spanish Parliament proposing the criminalisation of brothel-owning and pimping regardless of whether exploitation or abuse is involved, as well as criminalising the customers of prostitutes. The maximum sentence proposed is four years. The bill is supported by the governing Spanish Socialist Workers' Party. Street protests against the bill took place in Madrid in September 2022.[14]

Local government[edit]

Local governments differ in their approaches to both indoor and outdoor prostitution, usually in response to community pressure groups, and based on "public safety".[15] Most places do not regulate prostitution, but the government of Catalonia offers licenses for persons "to gather people to practice prostitution".[16] These licenses are used by brothel owners to open "clubs", where prostitution takes place (the women are theoretically only "gathered" to work on the premises not employed by the owner). Some places have implemented fines for street prostitution.[17][18]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

As part of the state of alarm due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain, all brothels and other places of entertainment were ordered to close.[19][failed verification]



Prostitution was tolerated in Spain throughout the mediaeval period, until the 17th century and the reign of Phillip IV (1621–65) whose 1623 decree closed the mancebías (brothels) forcing the women out into the street, a very unpopular decision, but one that remained in place till the 19th century. In the reign of Isabel II (1843–1868) regulation was introduced, firstly in cities, the Disposiciones de Zaragoza (1845) and the Reglamento para la represión de los excesos de la prostitución en Madrid (1847), followed by the 1848 Penal Code.[20][full citation needed]

In 1935 during the Second Republic (1931–36) prostitution was prohibited. Once the Dictatorship (1939–75) was established, this law was repealed (1941). Spain became officially abolitionist on 18 June 1962, when the 1949 United Nations (UN) Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others was ratified by Spain, and the Decree 168 of 24 January 1963 modified the Penal Code (Código Penal) according to the convention. In theory, this policy, in accordance with the convention, regarded sex workers (trabajadores sexuales) as victims of sexual exploitation and advocated punishment of their exploiters rather than the workers themselves, and refused to distinguish between voluntary and coerced sex work.[21] However, there were inconsistencies, as the prostitutes were in fact treated more like criminals: under Act 16/1970 of 4 August on social menace and rehabilitation (Ley de peligrosidad y rehabilitación social) prostitutes were declared amongst those classes categorized as social evils, and could be confined to special centres or forbidden to live in specified areas. In practice however, prostitution was quietly ignored and tolerated.[22]

Although democracy was restored in 1975, it was not till the Penal Code revisions of 1995[23] that this policy was revisited, and most laws regarding prostitution were repealed, with the exception of those governing minors and those with mental health problems. This included the Act 16/1970. Further revisions in 1999 addressed trafficking, as did the 2000 Immigration Act which followed other European precedents by offering asylum to trafficked victims if they collaborated.[24][full citation needed]

Public opinion[edit]

Opinion remains deeply divided in Spain over prostitution, and law reform has been in a political impasse for a long time.[25] Consequently, it remains in rather a grey zone of unregulated but tolerated semi-legality. The standard debates exist as to whether it is work like any other work, or exploitation of women as espoused by groups like Malostratos.[26] Meanwhile, it thrives, and has prompted headlines such as El nuevo burdel de Europa (The New Brothel of Europe).[27][28]

Public policy[edit]

The key instruments in order of importance are the Penal Code (Código penal) (1822–)[29] and the Immigration or Aliens Act (Ley de Extranjería de España) 2000.[30]


Migrant workers[edit]

In the 1980s, most of the sex workers in the country were Spanish,[3] but by 2006 70% of sex workers were migrants according to a TAMPEP study, with 70-80% of those migrants being from Latin America, (mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic)[15][31][32] After Bulgaria and Romania became EU members in 2007,[33] a large number travelled to Spain and engaged in sex work. TAMPEP carried out a further study in 2009 and found 90% of sex workers were migrants. Of all countries studied, only Italy had proportion of migrant workers at comparable level.[15][34] The 2009 study found the migrant sex workers were 49% were from Latin America, 24% from Central Europe (mainly Bulgaria and Romania) and 18% from Africa.

There was an influx of prostitutes from China in the early 2010s.[35] From 2012 to September 2013, 544 prostitutes were identified in 138 inspections in brothels of Asian prostitutes in Barcelona.[36] In the late 2010s a large number of Nigerian women have been trafficked into the country for prostitution.[37]

Some prostitution is present at small farms (cortijos) outside of Roquetas de Mar. The prostitutes work in the service of organised criminal organisations linked to human trafficking. This, as they have a debt to pay to compensate the cost of being brought there. Many prostitutes are of Russian, Nigerian and Moroccan descent.[38] Some women have taken up the job as prostitute after not being able to work in the intensive farming industry.[39]

As in other countries in Western Europe, there are concern over the presence of migrant workers on the streets and claims that many of them were coerced. NGOs believe a large percentage of individuals in prostitution in Spain are trafficking victims. Various reports give figures of 80-90% of prostitutes in Spain being trafficked, but this is disputed.[40] In 2008 the Spanish Government announced plans to aid women who had been trafficked.[41]

There is also cross-border prostitution between Spain and Portugal, and between Spain and France.[15])

There are organisations working with migrant women, including Proyecto Esperanza[42] and shelters such as IPSSE (Instituto para la Promoción de Servicios Especializados).


Organisations working with sex workers in Spain include APRAMP (Associacion para la Prevención, Reinserción y Atención de la Mujer Prostituida)[43] while sex workers' rights organisations include Hetaira (Madrid),[44] as well as regional organisations such as SICAR Asturias,[45] AMTTTSE (Asociación de Mujeres, Transexuales y Travestis como Trabajadoras Sexuales en España, Málaga) and CATS (Comité de Apoyo a las Trabajadoras del Sexo, Murcia).

Spanish sex workers continue to be concerned about their lack of protection and in July 2011 petitioned the Minister of Health (Leire Pajín).[46] A demonstration is planned for 6 November 2011 in Madrid, and a communique has been released setting out sex workers' complaints and demands.[47]

The Organización de Trabajadoras Sexuales (OTRAS) was formed in August 2018[40] and registered with Spain's Labour Ministry as a trade union. Feminists and activist opposed the formation of the union and instigated a campaign on social media against them using the hashtag #SoyAbolicionista (“I’m an Abolitionist”).[48] Abolitionist groups brought a court action against OTRAS,[40] which resulting on OTRAS's statutes being annulled on the grounds that there can be no employment contract for prostitutes and therefore they were not "workers" in terms of employment law, but the court did not dissolve the union.[49][50] However, in February 2019, the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid ruled that a prostitute working in a club in Barcelona had a valid employment relationship with the club owners.[51]

Social history[edit]

Prostitution in Spain was highly sectored, with at one end the damas cortesanas of high society,[52] and the mistresses of the bourgeoisie and barraganas, the concubines of the clergy. (Harrison)

Sex work in Spanish culture[edit]

La Maja Desnuda c. 1800, oil on canvas, 98 * 191 cm (38.58 * 75.2 in), Prado, Madrid

Goya (1746–1828) frequently commented on the place of prostitution in Spanish high society[53] such as satirising the church's involvement in the trade, for profit. Best known though are his controversial Majas.[54] Other examples are Murillo's Four Figures on a Step and Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (illustrated).

In literature, Miguel de Cervantes discusses prostitution in his early 17th century novel Don Quixote,[55] and the subject is found throughout 19th- and 20th-century Spanish literature.[56]

Sex work celebrities in Spain[edit]

La señora Rius (see photograph) is a Barcelona celebrity and Madam who told her story in Julián Peiró's La Sra. Rius, de moral distraída.[57]

Overseas autonomous communities[edit]

Canary Islands[edit]

In 2006, 42 people were arrested following the discover of a prostitution ring operating out of nightclubs in Las Palmas and Telde. The prostitutes were from South American countries, mainly Brazil.[58] Five people were jailed as a result.[59]

In 2012, a councillor in Santa Cruz de Tenerife told the ABC newspaper about the city's draft plan for prostitution. He said that, in cases examined by NGOs, all the prostitutes were women of which 9% were transsexual women.[60]

A study is 2016 estimated there were around 3,000 prostitutes working on the islands, mainly in the tourist areas and the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas.[61]


Prostitution occurs in the Ceti (Temporary Reception Center) in Ceuta. The prostitutes are mainly Nigerian women.[62]


Local NGO Melilla Acoge, which provides medical and other assistance to prostitutes, report that there are about 1,000 Moroccan prostitutes in Melilla. Some cross over the border into Melilla in the mornings and leave at midday, other cross over the border in the afternoon and leave at night.[63]

Sex trafficking[edit]

Sex traffickers exploit foreign victims in Spain and, to a lesser extent, Spanish victims abroad. Women from Eastern Europe (particularly Romania and Bulgaria), South America (particularly Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador), Central America (particularly Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua), China, and Nigeria are exploited in sex trafficking. Authorities report Nigerian women now make up the largest demographic of sex trafficking victims. Sex traffickers exploit Venezuelan women fleeing the collapsing social and economic conditions at home.

Spanish law does not permit nor prohibit prostitution, and NGOs believe a large percentage of individuals in prostitution in Spain are trafficking victims. Various reports give figures of 80-90% of prostitutes in Spain being trafficked, but this is disputed.[40]

Sex traffickers are increasingly using online apartment rental platforms to make their illicit operations difficult to track. An increasing number of victims arrived in southern Spain by sea via Morocco. Nigerian criminal networks recruit victims in migrant reception centers in Italy for forced prostitution in Spain. Unaccompanied migrant children continue to be vulnerable to sex trafficking. The increased numbers of newly arrived refugees and asylum-seekers are vulnerable to trafficking.[37]

Law enforcement conducted targeted operations against 37 criminal organisations involved in sex trafficking in 2018. The judiciary initiated prosecutions of 63 defendants for sex trafficking. The government reported several cases in which convicted traffickers received significant penalties. In January 2019, an Oviedo court sentenced four Romanians to 20 to 55 years in prison for forcing 12 Romanian women into prostitution.[37]

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Spain as a 'Tier 1' country.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1. El que determine, empleando violencia, intimidación o engaño, o abusando de una situación de superioridad o de necesidad o vulnerabilidad de la víctima, a persona mayor de edad a ejercer la prostitución o a mantenerse en ella, será castigado con las penas de prisión de dos a cuatro años y multa de 12 a 24 meses. En la misma pena incurrirá el que se lucre explotando la prostitución de otra persona, aun con el consentimiento de la misma''.


  1. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". www.aidsinfoonline.org. UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  2. ^ Kelly, Annie; Pablo, Ofelia de (11 May 2019). "'Prostitution is seen as a leisure activity here': tackling Spain's sex traffickers | Annie Kelly". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b Benavides, Lucia (9 July 2019). "Decriminalizing Sex Work In Spain Made It Safer For Women — And Traffickers". Medium. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  4. ^ "Calls in Spain to Legalize Prostitution". www.dw.com. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  5. ^ Valdes, Isabel; Álvarez, Pilar (7 December 2018). "Spain tries 'Swedish model' to address prostitution's legal limbo". EL PAÍS. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  6. ^ Fotheringham, Alasdair (5 December 2010). "Spain, the world capital of prostitution?". London: Independent. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  7. ^ "Prostitution thrives on edge of legality in Spain". Taipei Times. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  8. ^ "5 arrested in Spain for male prostitution ring". CNN. 31 August 2010. Archived from the original on 16 October 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  9. ^ Infante, Anelise (8 September 2009). "Woman forced back into prostitution". BBC. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  10. ^ Burgen, Stephen (16 July 2010). "Spain to ban sex adverts from national newspapers". London: Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  11. ^ "Union backs Spain's sex workers". BBC. 18 May 2005. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  12. ^ Tremlett, Giles (24 June 2006). "Europe's brothel - in a corner of Spain". London: Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  13. ^ "Ley Orgánica 10/1995, de 23 de noviembre, del Código Penal (Capítulo V. de los delitos relativos a la prostitución y la corrupción de menores – Artículo 188)". Noticias Juridicas. 1. Whosoever by using violence, intimidation or deception, or abuse of a position of superiority or of the vulnerability of the victim, causes an adult person to engage in prostitution or remain in it, is punished by a prison sentence of two to four years and a fine of 12 to 24 months (i.e. fine days set at rate depending on financial circumstances). The same penalty shall be incurred by one who profits from the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.
  14. ^ "Spanish sex club owners, workers protest prostitution bill". SF Gate. The Associated Press. 12 September 2022.
  15. ^ a b c d "Sex Work in Europe. A mapping of the prostitution scene in 25 European countries. TAMPEP 2009" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  16. ^ "Europe's Brothel - in a Corner of Spain". Buzzle.com. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  17. ^ "Granada brings in hefty fines for street prostitution". Typicallyspanish.com. 22 October 2009. Archived from the original on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  18. ^ "Seville to follow Catalan lead with bid to regulate prostitution". Expatica.com. Archived from the original on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  19. ^ Carranco, Rebeca (3 April 2020). "How the coronavirus crisis has affected sex workers in one of Europe's biggest brothels". EL PAÍS. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  20. ^ Guerena 2003, 2008
  21. ^ Carracedo Bullido, Rosario (2001). Legislación penal española (Spanish penal law). In Dirección General de la Mujer de la Comunidad de Madrid (ed.) Simposio internacional sobre prostitución y tráfico de mujeres con fines de explotación sexual (International Conference on Prostitution and Traffic of Women with the Purpose of Their Sexual Exploitation). Madrid: Dirección General de la Mujer de la Comunidad de Madrid: pp.149-59.
  22. ^ Fotheringham, Alasdair (5 December 2010). "Spain, the world capital of prostitution?". The Independent. London.
  23. ^ Peter Pierson. The history of Spain. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. p. 11
  24. ^ Valiente 2003
  25. ^ "Spain divided over semi-legal prostitution. Digital Journal Aug 29, 2007". Digitaljournal.com. 29 August 2007. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  26. ^ "Malostratos". Malostratos. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  27. ^ El nuevo burdel de Europa. El País 26 Sep 2005
  28. ^ "Sex trade growing in Spain amid ambiguous prostitution laws. Deccan Herald Oct 29, 2010". Deccanherald.com. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  29. ^ "Official text of Penal Code". Noticias.juridicas.com. 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  30. ^ "Official text of Immigration Act". Noticias.juridicas.com. 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  31. ^ Trullen, Gas J; Rubiols, Estruch C; Polo, Esteve A; Fenosa, Salillas A; Altava, Padilla C (July 2004). Trends in female prostitution in Castellon (Spain). International Conference on AIDS.
  32. ^ See also Laura Oso, 2003, 2010
  33. ^ "A decade of further expansion". Europa web portal. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2007.
  34. ^ Rettman, Andrew. "EUobserver / Romanian sex workers most prevalent in EU. EU Observer Jan 26 2010". Euobserver.com. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  35. ^ "华人卖淫业规模上升至旅西班牙移民第二位". 环球时报. SINA. 22 September 2013.
  36. ^ "156 detenidos en prostíbulos asiáticos de Barcelona desde 2012" [156 detained in Asian brothels in Barcelona since 2012]. El País (in Spanish). 12 August 2013.
  37. ^ a b c d "Spain 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 30 July 2018.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  38. ^ No way out for Almería’s prostitutes
  39. ^ The Spanish nuns helping prostitutes start a new life
  40. ^ a b c d Beatley, Meaghan (26 November 2018). "Prostitution takes center stage as Spanish feminists rally to eliminate violence against women". Public Radio International. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  41. ^ Spain Targets Sex Traffickers With Aid to Prostitutes Bloomburg 19 December 2008
  42. ^ "Proyecto Esperanza". Proyecto Esperanza. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  43. ^ "APRAMP". APRAMP. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  44. ^ "Hetaira". Colectivohetaira.org. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  45. ^ "SICAR". Sicarasturias.org. Archived from the original on 24 September 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  46. ^ Pide a la ministra Leire Pajín que escuche a las trabajadoras del sexo. Actuable July 2011
  47. ^ "Hetaira: Comunicado aprobado en la asamblea de trabajadoras del sexo de Madrid del 1171072011". Archived from the original on 10 August 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  48. ^ Beatley, Meaghan (13 December 2018). "Who's Afraid of a Sex Workers' Union?". www.thenation.com. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  49. ^ Aguilar, Ana Requena (21 November 2018). "La Audiencia Nacional anula los estatutos del sindicato OTRAS porque entiende que la prostitución no es un trabajo". eldiario.es (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  50. ^ Kluwer, Wolters (21 November 2018). "El Sindicato Organización de Trabajadoras Sexuales es ilegal". Cinco Días (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  51. ^ McLaren, Shirley (28 February 2019). "¡SENTENCIA HISTÓRICA A FAVOR DE LAS TRABAJADORAS SEXUALES!" (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  52. ^ Martínez Soto, María Cristina (2002). Cortesanas en el Madrid barroco. Proceedings of the 2. Congresso Brasileiro de Hispanistas.
  53. ^ Burnham, Andrea. "Religious Satire in 18th Century Spain: Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos". Concordia Undergraduate Journal of Art History. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  54. ^ "Hooker heroes: Painted ladies". Wondersmith.com. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  55. ^ Nadeau, Carolyn A. (1997). "Recovering the Hetairae: prostitution in Don Quijote I". Cervantes. 17 (2): 4–24. ISSN 0277-6995. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  56. ^ Franz, Thomas R. (December 2003). "Demythologizing the Presentation of Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Spanish Narrative: A Virtual Impossibility". Hispania. 86 (4): 733–41. doi:10.2307/20062921. JSTOR 20062921.
  57. ^ "La Sra. Rius, de moral distraída". Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  58. ^ "Brazilian prostitution ring smashed in Las Palmas". Island Connections. 26 January 2006. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  59. ^ "La fiscal rebaja las penas por el caso del club Kimbanda a 18 años de prisión - La Provincia - Diario de Las Palmas". La Provincia (in Spanish). 16 March 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  60. ^ "Afirman que el Plan ante Prostitución en S/C está paralizado por desinterés" [Plan for Prostitution in Santa Cruz said to be paralyzed by lack of interest]. ABC (in Spanish). 6 December 2012. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  61. ^ "Experts urge action to curb prostitution problems in Canaries". Tenerife News. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  62. ^ Hamdaoui, Neijma (6 February 2004). "Ceuta, porte du paradis européen… – JeuneAfrique.com". Jeune Afrique (in French). Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  63. ^ El Masaiti, Amira (7 September 2017). "Spanish NGO: 1,000 Moroccans Work As Prostitutes in Melilla". Morocco World News. Retrieved 26 February 2018.

Other sources[edit]



  • Carmen Y. Hsu. Courtesans in the Literature of Spanish Golden Age (Kassel: Reichenberger, 2002)


External links[edit]