Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Photo credit: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP". (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

What happens if Spain's Prime Minister criminalizes sex work?

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Law & Policy

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pledged to criminalize sex work in the country, claiming that it ‘enslaves women.’

Sex work was decriminalized in Spain in 1995, meaning sex workers do not face punishment for their work, as long as it does not take place in public places. Notably, pimping or being a proxy between a sex worker and a potential client is illegal. Trafficking also remains illegal under decriminalization.

As CATS, a charity which provides support to sex workers in southeastern Spain, explains, policies aimed at abolition of the sex industry will create harm.

“If you throw people engaged in prostitution out of the establishments and flats where they work, then they’re going to end up on the street,” said Nacho Pardo of CATS. “And that is sad, it’s dangerous and it makes them vulnerable to mafias.”

Since Spain partially decriminalized sex work, the sex industry has grown with an estimated 300,000 women sex workers in the country. According to Spanish police, they assisted 896 women out of situations of exploitation in 2019.

The BBC reports on why the Spanish Prime Minister wants criminalization:

In 2019, Mr Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) published a pledge in its election manifesto to outlaw prostitution, in what was seen as a move to attract more female voters.

The manifesto called prostitution “one of the cruellest aspects of the feminisation of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women”.

However two years on from the election, no legislation has yet been tabled. Spanish media report that the PSOE would need to agree on a draft with their left-wing Podemos coalition partners before presenting a bill to parliament, so there is still a long way to go.

Still, PSOE equality secretary Carmen Calvo, says “we’ve passed other laws which were much more difficult, so we’ll get this one done.”

According to Spanish journalist César Jara and others supporting the criminalization of sex work, “95% of prostitution in Spain is not free”.

Those who support Spain’s current policy of decriminalization say it has brought significant benefits to sex workers, making their work safer.

Rather than tackling abuse, criminalizing sex work will only push it underground. This means trafficking survivors are less likely to seek support from authorities, and sex workers will be made more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Learn more about the links between the decriminalization of sex work and building resilience to trafficking on our dedicated resource page here. 

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