Prostitution in Spain

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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. UNAIDS estimate there to be 70,268 prostitutes in the country.[1]

Legal status[edit]

Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995. Prostitution itself is not directly addressed in the Criminal Code of Spain, but exploitation such as pimping is illegal.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

The only article in the Code dealing specifically with adult prostitution is Artícle 188, which bans pimping:[9]

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''.[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.

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".[10] Most places do not regulate prostitution, but the government of Catalonia offers licenses for persons "to gather people to practice prostitution".[11] 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.[12][13]



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. (Guerena 2003, 2008)

In 1935 during the Second Republic (1931–6) 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.[14] 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.[15]

Although democracy was restored in 1975, it was not till the Penal Code revisions of 1995[16] 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 (Valiente 2003).

Public opinion[edit]

Opinion remains deeply divided in Spain over prostitution, and law reform has been in a political impasse for a long time.[17] 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.[18] Meanwhile, it thrives, and has prompted headlines such as El nuevo burdel de Europa (The New Brothel of Europe).[19][20]

Public policy[edit]

The key instruments in order of importance are the Penal Code (Código penal) (1822–)[21] and the Immigration or Aliens Act (Ley de Extranjería de España) 2000.[22]


Migrant workers[edit]

According to a 2009 TAMPEP study, 90% of sex workers are migrants. Of all countries studied, only Italy had proportion of migrant workers at comparable level.[10][23] About 80% of these were Latin American (mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic)[24][25] However, the situation is changing rapidly owing to the arrival of Eastern European migrants (mainly Romania and Bulgaria) who now make up 25% compared to 50% from Latin America, under the context of Immigration to Spain. (There is also considerable cross-border traffic between Spain and Portugal and France. Equally, some 80% of Spanish national workers work outside Spain, mainly from economic necessity.[10])

As in other countries in Western Europe, there is concern over the presence of migrant workers on the streets and claims that many of them were coerced. In 2008 the Spanish Government announced plans to aid women who had been trafficked.[26]

There are organisations working with migrant women, including Proyecto Esperanza[27] and shelters such as IPSSE (Instituto para la Promoción de Servicios Especializados).

From 2012 to September 2013, 544 prostitutes were identified in 138 inspections in brothels of Asian prostitutes in Barcelona.[28]


Organisations working with sex workers in Spain include APRAMP (Associacion para la Prevención, Reinserción y Atención de la Mujer Prostituida)[29] while sex workers' rights organisations include Hetaira (Madrid),[30] as well as regional organisations such as SICAR Asturias,[31] 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).[32] A demonstration is planned for 6 November 2011 in Madrid, and a communique has been released setting out sex workers' complaints and demands.[33]

Social history[edit]

Prostitution in Spain was highly sectored, with at one end the damas cortesanas of high society,[34] 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[35] such as satirising the church's involvement in the trade, for profit. Best known though are his controversial Majas.[36] Other examples are Murillo's Four Figures on a Step and Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (illustrated).

In literature, Cervantes discusses prostitution in Don Quixote,[37] and the subject is found throughout 19th- and 20th-century Spanish literature.[38]

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 (Comanegra, Barcelona 2008).[39]

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.[40] Five people were jailed as a result.[41]

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, 91% of the prostitutes were women and 9% were transsexual women.[42]

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.[43]


Prostitution occurs in the Ceti (Temporary Reception Center) in Ceuta. The prostitutes are mainly Nigerian women.[44]


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.[45]

Sex trafficking[edit]

Spain is a destination, source, and transit country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Women from Eastern Europe (particularly Romania and Bulgaria), South America (particularly Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador), China, and Nigeria are subjected to sex trafficking in Spain. NGOs believe a large percentage of individuals in prostitution in Spain are trafficking victims. Spain has seen a rise in trafficking through the Western Mediterranean as traffickers shift routes from Libya to Morocco, where victims are moved by sea into southern Spain. 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.[46]

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Spain as a 'Tier 1' country.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". UNAIDS. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  2. ^ Fotheringham, Alasdair (5 December 2010). "Spain, the world capital of prostitution?". London: Independent. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  3. ^ "Prostitution thrives on edge of legality in Spain". Taipei Times. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  4. ^ "5 arrested in Spain for male prostitution ring". CNN. 31 August 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  5. ^ Infante, Anelise (8 September 2009). "Woman forced back into prostitution". BBC. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  6. ^ Burgen, Stephen (16 July 2010). "Spain to ban sex adverts from national newspapers". London: Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  7. ^ "Union backs Spain's sex workers". BBC. 18 May 2005. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  8. ^ Tremlett, Giles (24 June 2006). "Europe's brothel - in a corner of Spain". London: Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ a b c "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.
  11. ^ "Europe's Brothel - in a Corner of Spain". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  12. ^ "Granada brings in hefty fines for street prostitution". 22 October 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  13. ^ "Seville to follow Catalan lead with bid to regulate prostitution". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Fotheringham, Alasdair (5 December 2010). "Spain, the world capital of prostitution?". The Independent. London.
  16. ^ Peter Pierson. The history of Spain. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. p. 11
  17. ^ "Spain divided over semi-legal prostitution. Digital Journal Aug 29, 2007". 29 August 2007. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  18. ^ "Malostratos". Malostratos. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  19. ^ El nuevo burdel de Europa. El País Sept 26, 2005
  20. ^ "Sex trade growing in Spain amid ambiguous prostitution laws. Deccan Herald Oct 29, 2010". 29 October 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  21. ^ "Official text of Penal Code". 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  22. ^ "Official text of Immigration Act". 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  23. ^ Rettman, Andrew. "EUobserver / Romanian sex workers most prevalent in EU. EU Observer Jan 26 2010". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  24. ^ Trullen Gas J. Trends in female prostitution in Castellon (Spain). Int Conf AIDS. 2004 Jul 11-16; 15: abstract no. C10698
  25. ^ See also Laura Oso, 2003, 2010
  26. ^ Spain Targets Sex Traffickers With Aid to Prostitutes Bloomburg 19 December 2008
  27. ^ "Proyecto Esperanza". Proyecto Esperanza. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  28. ^ El País
  29. ^ "APRAMP". APRAMP. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  30. ^ "Hetaira". 22 March 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  31. ^ "SICAR". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  32. ^ Pide a la ministra Leire Pajín que escuche a las trabajadoras del sexo. Actuable July 2011
  33. ^ Hetaira: Comunicado aprobado en la asamblea de trabajadoras del sexo de Madrid del 1171072011
  34. ^ "An. 2. María Cristina Martínez Soto. Cortesanas en el Madrid barroco. Congr. Bras. Hispanistas Oct. 2002". 6 January 1990. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ "Hooker heroes: Painted ladies". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  37. ^ Nadeau, Carolyn A. (1997). "Recovering the Hetairae: prostitution in Don Quijote I". Cervantes. 17 (2): 4–24. ISSN 0277-6995.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ "La Sra. Rius, de moral distraída". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  40. ^ "Brazilian prostitution ring smashed in Las Palmas". Island Connections. 26 January 2006. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  41. ^ "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). Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  42. ^ "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.
  43. ^ "Experts urge action to curb prostitution problems in Canaries". Tenerife News. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  44. ^ Hamdaoui, Neijma (6 February 2004). "Ceuta, porte du paradis européen… –". Jeune Afrique (in French). Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  45. ^ El Masaiti, Amira (7 September 2017). "Spanish NGO: 1,000 Moroccans Work As Prostitutes in Melilla". Morocco World News. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  46. ^ a b "Spain 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 30 July 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2018. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

Other sources[edit]




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



  1. ^ "He who causes a person of legal age to engage in prostitution or to remain in it, with the use of violence, intimidation or deception, or by abusing a position of superiority or dependency or the 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".

External links[edit]