Spain’s sex workers ‘out on their own’ as the €24.5 billion industry shuts down amid pandemic

Spain’s domestic sex trade is estimated to be worth €24.5 billion a year, with a workforce of around 300,000 and hundreds of licensed brothels.

BUT the industry faces ruin under State of Alarm confinement and social distancing measures, with the vast majority of sex workers left ‘out on their own’ without much support.

Unlike regular employees, most sex workers won’t benefit directly from the package of loans the government is making available to companies struggling to stay afloat because of the coronavirus outbreak, or financial assistance for the self-employed.

Workers at one of Europe’s biggest brothels, Paradise, in La Jonquera, Gerona, literally found themselves on the street with their suitcases when the venue closed its doors three weeks ago, in line with government lockdown measures.

Around 90 women who worked and lived there were left with ‘literally nowhere to go.’

Club owner, José Moreno, has reportedly filed for the temporary layoff scheme ERTE, which affects 69 employees at Paradise, but none of these are sex workers as they have ‘no formal legal ties with the company, from which they rent out the rooms.’ As such, the sex workers are not directly hired by the owner.

One of the women said that “the day after the decree, the mamis (women who manage the rooms) confirmed “everyone had to be out by noon.”

Moreno told El Pais “two months of closure means ruin, we’ve survived so far, but we’ll see what happens from now on.”

On Wednesday night, Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, closed a brothel located in the C-17, in the municipality of Orís (Barcelona), and denounced the owner and the two clients who were on the premises for non-compliance with the confinement measures.

The women were only warned of the ban on working on the premises for the duration of the State of Alarm.

A GoFundMe page has been set up on behalf of OTRAS Union to support sex workers in Spain ‘who are still in danger’ and left to fend for themselves. They have raised €4,450 of their €14,000 since March 25.

Shirley McLaren and three others, who organised the appeal, plead: “We sex workers, who are also affected by migration, race, class and gender identity, are especially vulnerable to this pandemic because we do not have rights as workers, we are facing complete state neglect.

“We are not going to stop demanding that the institutions fulfil their duties and that the government powers recognise the enormously urgent situation in which we find ourselves. But, until they wake up, we need to cover our basic needs: food, shelter, medicines… with your contribution we will be able to distribute a little support and hope for what we are living… and what is to come.”

Amsterdam’s Prostitution Information Centre, which normally offers tours and provides information, has established an emergency fund for sex workers in financial trouble.

It is aiming to raise €6,000 and will disburse €40 each to people who apply, to cover basics such as shopping, medicines and phone credits.

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Written by

Tara Rippin

Tara Rippin is a reporter for Spain’s largest English-speaking newspaper, Euro Weekly News, and is responsible for the Costa Blanca region.
She has been in journalism for more than 20 years, having worked for local newspapers in the Midlands, UK, before relocating to Spain in 1990.
Since arriving, the mother-of-one has made her home on the Costa Blanca, while spending 18 months at the EWN head office in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol.
She loves being part of a community that has a wonderful expat and Spanish mix, and strives to bring the latest and most relevant news to EWN’s loyal and valued readers.

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