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Can a groundbreaking team turn the tide? O n a sunny morning in Madrid, two young women duck down a side street, into a residential block and up to an apartment front door. Then they start knocking. Marcella and Maria spend a lot of time banging on doors and yelling through letterboxes all over the city. Most of the time, these doors never open. When they do, the two women could find themselves in trouble. Yet they keep on knocking, because they have been on the other side of those doors, forced to sell their bodies for a handful of euros, dozens of times a day, seven days a week.
To say that prostitution is big business in Spain would be a gross understatement. The country has become known as the brothel of Europe, after a United Nations report cited Spain as the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, behind Thailand and Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish Socialist party, which two weeks ago won another term in governmenthas promised to make it illegal to pay for sex, prostitution has boomed since it was decriminalised here in Supporters of decriminalisation claim it has brought benefits to those working in the trade, including making life safer for women.
Yet this vastly profitable and largely unregulated market has also become infested with criminality, turning Spain into a global hub for human trafficking and sexual slavery. Prostitution becomes sex trafficking when one person moves, detains or transports someone else for the purpose of profiting from their prostitution using fraud, force or coercion. In the UK, thousands of women are thought to be trapped in sexual servitude, but the scale of the problem in Spain is staggering. Betweensecurity forces in Spain rescued 5, people Girl in Spain want sex slavery but acknowledge that thousands more remain under the control of criminals.
Since it passed its first anti-trafficking laws inthe government has been scrambling to get on top of this crisis, spending millions of euros on an emergency plan to target the individuals and gangs operating with impunity. Init went further and created formal alliances between security forces, prosecutors, judges and NGOs, to rescue victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Survivors such as Maria and Marcella now find themselves playing a crucial part in bringing the battle to the criminals who once sold and exploited them. I meet Maria and Marcella, both in their mids, in the offices of Aprampan organisation set up to protect, reintegrate and assist women in prostitution.
Apramp helped them escape their traffickers, and they are now among its outreach workers. Their day job is to identify potential trafficking victims and try to offer them a way out. They find women they think might need help on the streets, in hostess clubs, and in some of the residences they say are operating as informal brothels in Madrid.
Both shrug off the suggestion that they are brave. So it only makes us Girl in Spain want sex determined. The two poised and eloquent young women, dressed like students in jeans and trainers, have lived through terrible things. Maria, petite and softly spoken, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, was brought to Spain from Romania by someone she trusted: she thought she was going on holiday with her new boyfriend.
Instead, he drove her over the border using their EU residency cards and within 24 hours she was on the streets. The shock and the trauma makes you go into survival mode. The police in Romania are often corrupt. You think, why should it be different here? The promise of freedom in return for paying off the debt almost always turns out to be a lie. Marcella nods in agreement. She was forced into prostitution immediately after she was collected from the airport.
The fact that she not only survived but is now able to help others in the same situation has been an essential part of her recovery. Between them, Maria and Marcella have helped dozens of women and girls escape their traffickers.
Afterwards, Apramp finds the women somewhere safe to live, offers counselling and legal support, and helps them find work. What Spain is facing, she says, is a huge violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls; anyone labouring under the impression that the majority of women working in prostitution in Spain are doing so by choice is deluding themselves. There are many reasons why Spain has become a hotspot, but for Mora, the biggest single factor is cultural. Mora has recently seen a radical change in the kind of men buying sex.
Before, it was largely older men sneaking away from their families. Now, both the women on the streets and the sex buyers themselves are getting younger. Two decades ago, criminal gangs started to take hold. There was suddenly a lot of violence and coercion — men on the streets watching the women and taking their money. Now, she says, most women in prostitution in Spain are foreigners: Apramp works with women of 53 different nationalities. They no longer need men on the street, because they are controlling the women through debt, fear and psychological control.
Maria says many are also acting as human posts, indicating that there are houses filled with other women nearby. But as soon as you put a name to it, everything changes. You see it for what it really is.
The main victims we are seeing trafficked and forced into prostitution are Romanian, West African and South American. You can cross from Romania to Spain with an ID card. Africa is just 15km from us. We have a historic and a linguistic connection to South America. As in many countries, a prosecution is almost impossible without a victim willing to disclose their situation and testify against their exploiters. Although the police have all undertaken anti-trafficking training, their main job tonight seems to be restricted to checking ID and carting any woman found to be working illegally off to the police station.
At our first location there is a short period of confusion as our two unmarked cars drive up and down the street trying to find a parking space. By the time we enter, the music is already off and the club deserted — other than four women sitting silently on bar stools clutching their ID cards and a manager conspicuously cleaning glasses behind the bar.
None of them is Spanish. The women all appear to be here on student visas, and shake their he when the police chief asks them if they need help.
There is no evidence that these women are victims of trafficking, but it seems ludicrous to expect anyone to disclose anything in this environment. In one, three very young Chinese women sit silent and apparently terrified in their underwear on a cracked fake leather banquette, while police check the damp and dirty premises.
The women keep their eyes fixed on the thickset Chinese man behind the bar as he chats easily to the police and shows them his licence. As we leave, the heavy metal door slams shut with a thud, leaving the women inside. One of the officers runs a hand over his face and exhales. My God. Yet Nieto believes there is hope and says the new strategy of creating formal alliances between police, prosecutors and frontline services is putting more pressure on criminal gangs.
She is upbeat, funny and warm, but steely in her determination.
They are complex crimes that are difficult to dismantle. We must keep going! Her family is from Ecuador but she was living on the outskirts of Madrid, with a Spanish passport, when she was forced into prostitution in her own neighbourhood five years ago, after falling victim to fraudsters who lent her money. She is yet to see any of this money, and her debts to family and neighbours remain unpaid. But for now she is surviving. Proyecto Esperanza is helping her find a job and providing counselling. She has a home and is rebuilding her relationship with her children.
Despite her experiences, she is trying to teach them that the world can be a good place. That in every terrible situation there can be a light at the end of the tunnel — a way out of the darkness. Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article.
Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site. Exploitation in focus Sex trade. Anti-trafficking police officers speak to a woman in Colonia Marconi, Madrid. Exploitation in focus is supported by. Annie Kelly and Ofelia de Pablo in Madrid.Girl in Spain want sex
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