It's four o'clock in the morning The Rambla. End the night for three African women. They have collected 500 or 600 euros between them all. It's time to hide the money in your vagina. So they elude the secret (plainclothes agents) who persecute them to comply with the ordinance of civility and coexistence in Barcelona. Maria remembers her, another prostitute who works in the same area. "They stopped them just for taking condoms." More than 50 Spanish cities have specific municipal regulations to pursue prostitution. Some punish whoever offers sex and who buys it, others only to customers. They were born to try to protect the women, to please the neighbors or to clean the streets. But the result is that they attack mainly prostitutes and, of them, mainly the most vulnerable: the victims of trafficking.
A report from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) analyzes for the first time the effect that these regulations have had, approved in some cases more than a decade ago. The Antigone group, a research team on women and rights in gender perspective of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, has studied the standards in nine cities Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Zaragoza, San Sebastian, Bilbao, La Jonquera, Lleida and Castelldefels. In some, like Madrid, there is no municipal regulation but it is fined through the Citizen Security Law (Mordant Lawto).
The 150-page preliminary report, to which this newspaper has accessed, bases its thesis on the fact that cities such as Barcelona have registered twice as many sanctions against women as against customers (2,633 stop at 1,188). And it includes 32 interviews with prostitutes, organizations that work with them, politicians, technicians and police, with which they also conclude that they are punished more.
Some of the prostitutes who interviewed the Antigone group gave frightening testimonies about the persecution they suffer from the ordinances and the Gag Law. Mary, of Barcelona, claimed that an urban guard became "very famous" in the city because "punctured condoms" to African prostitutes. He assures that he created a sanitary alarm and that in the end they managed to expel her from Las Ramblas with her protest. In Madrid, police pressure after the approval of the Gag Law He pushed a group of women to join the Afemtras collective. One of them is Ninfa. He was fined 600 euros when he worked in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) as well as his client. He has the fine pending for five years. He never paid. But this Ecuadorian prostitute, who asks to appear with that name supposedly in conversation with this newspaper, ended up jumping from one place to another until arriving at the Madrid estate of Villaverde, where she assures that the police are still chasing them. "Sweeping the streets is to favor the businessmen of clubs and hostess floors," he explains. "They add to our stigma," says Ninfa, who prefers to define herself as a "sex worker" and is part of the first state union of prostitutes, approved by mistake this summer and to which the Government now seeks to deactivate.
In Spain Prostitution is a legal phenomenon. The PSOE government, which has declared itself abolitionist, has promised a rule against trafficking and sexual exploitation yet to be developed. "Supposedly the ordinances are an instrument against trafficking, but we have seen that it is these women who complicate their lives the most," explains Encarna Bodelón, Antigone's principal investigator. The fines they face vary, depending on the case, between 100 and 3,000 euros. "There are women who accumulate 40,000 euros that they then have to pay," according to one of the prostitutes interviewed for the report in Barcelona. "There is a partner who is paying 1,200 euros a month at the moment."
In Lleida there are 10 times more women fined up to 2016 (480) and in La Jonquera, five times more, up to 632. In Madrid, the interviewed organizations criticize that the persecution is focused on women, although Interior does not offer disaggregated data on the sanctions by Gag Law that allow comparison. Seville, which persecutes clients and considers prostitutes as victims of gender violence, has issued 230 fines to date.
The report considers that the ordinances increase the stigmatization of women, displacing them from the center of the cities to the outskirts, where they are more insecure. He also denounces that their voices are not heard when legislating.
In Seville, street prostitution has disappeared from central areas such as the Alameda. It remains in the periphery, "where it was already before," says Miriam Díaz, Equality delegate and deputy mayor. The Seville City Hall declares itself abolitionist, which means that it does not conceive prostitution as a job in any case. It is a proposal similar to the one that tries to promote in the City council of Madrid the PSOE, at the moment without success. "The challenge is to control the floors", adds the Sevillan mayor. In Seville, prostitutes are considered victims of gender violence, such as those mistreated by their partners and ex-partners, and can access resources envisaged as shelters "for a second chance", social work centers and psychological resources.
The same on the street
Barcelona began fining clients and prostitutes in 2006, although they stopped sanctioning them as of 2015. With the arrival of Ada Colau's team to the mayor's office they gave a new turn that focused on social attention to women, although in This case from a regulatory or pro-rights perspective that assumes that there are prostitutes by choice. "The ordinance was approved with the promise of reducing the number of women in the streets but there are still some 350 between El Raval, the maritime zone and the Barca field," explains Laura Pérez Castaño, Councilor for Feminisms and LGBTI in Barcelona.
"European directives claim not to fine trafficked women, but are the most sanctioned," according to the mayor. Although the data is not broken by the difficulty of distinguishing a possible victim while being sanctioned, "surely they are the most punished because they need to spend more time outside to earn more money." "We want rights for them but not paternalistic looks, we must clearly differentiate the phenomena," says the council.
In what coincide the report and the City Councils of Seville and Barcelona, as well as organizations that work with trafficking victims such as Apramp, is to demand a state regulation that seeks solutions beyond an ordinance. Meanwhile, the fight continues in the Town Halls.