Sara Vicente Collado

Lawyer in practice since 2001. Feminist and activist for the right to equal opportunities between women and men.

Coordinator of projects in the Commission for the Investigation of Mistreatment of Women in Spain where she has fought for the right of women to a life free of all forms of violence since 1996, including prostitution and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation as form of violence against women.

She has participated in studies and research on violence against women at European level and at the state level.

She has participated as a speaker in various events on violence against women including prostitution at the state, European and international level.

She is currently responsible for prostitution programs of the Comission. She is also the representative of the Spanish Lobby Europeo de Mujeres in the Observatory of Violence and Prostitution recently created by the European Women’s Lobby.

“EU Member-States: Presentations on international practices” session

Thank you for inviting us to participate in these European Conferences with such broad and valuable representation from each of the countries of leading activists to achieve a society free of prostitution and trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation. 

Institutional policies in our country have been erratic since the Criminal Code was amended in 1995, decriminalizing lucrative pimping and making a legal distinction between voluntary and forced prostitution. 

This modification of the penal regulations meant that the Spanish State failed to comply with the international commitments subscribed and incorporated into the internal regulations: the Lake Success Convention of 1949, the CEDAW and that subsequently it was forced to modify the Penal Code on three occasions, at least partially in the years 2003, 2010 and 2015, without succeeding in any of these modifications to retake the abolitionist penal legislation that we had had from 1973 to 1995 in our country. 

The problems

The consequences of this modification have been multiple and have given rise to a dispersion of regulations and public policies in our country, at local, regional and state levels. 

  1. While trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has a consensus of rejection in all spheres, there is a tendency to equate trafficking with forced prostitution and to separate “so-called voluntary” prostitution from trafficking as if they were two distinct and unrelated phenomena. 
  2. There is a tendency to consider that all forms of trafficking are equal and that there is no distinction on the grounds of gender or the specificity of the subject matter, thus equating prostitution with labor exploitation. 
  3. There is a tendency to adopt norms that attempt to organize and regulate prostitution instead of considering it a form of violence against women, thus normalizing the phenomenon of prostitution and prostitutional relationships. 
  4. There is a social consideration that prostitution is “a choice” for women, speaking of sexual freedom rather than sexual violence. 
  5. The demand has the right to exercise its sexual freedom and the purchase of sexual services is totally normalized and integrated as an equal relationship between two persons free and equal in rights, the man who demands prostitution services and the woman who is forced into prostitution.
  6. Socially, it is considered “moralistic” to understand prostitution as a form of sexual violence and it is considered that the only way to grant rights to women in prostitution is to define prostitution as work. 
  7. Those who stigmatize women in prostitution and really act against women’s rights are not the men who demand prostitutional relations in the framework of a macho society, but the abolitionist feminists. 

All this makes prostitution institutionally considered a choice for women because of their sexual freedom. 

Situation in Catalonia

This is, fundamentally, the level of the current debate in Catalonia and in other sectors linked to the most politically and socially transgressive left. 

In Catalonia, the regulation of prostitution has been organized and structured for decades. In 2001, an autonomous decree was approved for the regulation of the activity of prostitution and local public concurrence, which, although challenged by the abolitionist women’s organizations, the Spanish Courts incomprehensibly gave carte blanche allowing it to have effect at present against all international regulations that have a preferential character. 

The Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, issued a standard ordinance, ordering prostitution in public spaces, which has been copied by the 53 municipalities that have adopted it in a very similar way. The ordinance is reduced to acting against prostitution in the street by imposing administrative sanctions on women who offer “sexual services in exchange for money” and on men who ask for “sexual services in exchange for money”, as if prostitution were something so innocuous and so neutral for women. 

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, is offering and paying for courses to teach “novice” women to practice prostitution, by the hand of APROSEX, the organization behind the creation of the UNION OF SEX WORKERS “OTHERS”, recently legalized by the Directorate General of Labor. 

With this legislation that normalizes prostitution, Catalonia is becoming the BROTHEL of Europe, along with Germany and Holland. In La Junquera, a town on the border with France, exist the large brothels of southern Europe, full of young French men. The mayor of La Junquera has said that she cannot renounce the income that the prostitution industry brings to her municipality indirectly (they consume in supermarkets, gasoline, tobacco, alcohol, in restaurants…); this is the only thing that matters. Women’s well-being, dignity and achieving equality do not matter. 

Network of abolitionist municipalities 

There are exceptions, Municipality of Seville, Palma de Mallorca and Figueres and, until August 2018, the Municipality of Madrid, consider that prostitution and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation are equivalent phenomena and that action must be taken to eradicate all prostitution without distinction because they are relations of violence against women, which, if maintained, threaten the dignity, equality and sexual freedom of all women, of society as a whole. 

This network of municipalities is carrying out abolitionist policies, sanctioning exclusively the demand for prostitution services and persecuting brothels in order to shut them down and expel them from the cities, all accompanied by measures that encourage women to leave prostitution, providing them with psychological, legal and social help.

The situation of political parties 

PCE and IU are two parties with abolitionist political positions on prostitution. The only thing that they do not defend is the penalization of the demand, betting on an educational approach before initiating any punitive action. 

PSOE, like the rest of the political parties except for IU, does not have an expressly abolitionist political position, although in the last electoral campaign it had clear abolitionist actions. 

PP and Podemos have no political posture nor abolitionist programmatic definition. 

Ciudadanos’ political position is on the regulation of prostitution, just like surrogate wombs. 

How the abolitionist feminist movement acts 

In 2001, the abolitionist organizations joined together and created a state platform, the Platform of Women’s Organizations for the Abolition of Prostitution, among which is “La Comisión para la Investigación de Malos Tratos a Mujeres” to which I belong, where we have raised the need to talk about the abolition of prostitution as the only possible response to trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and to prostitution. 

We want prostitution to be recognized as another form of violence and incorporated into the Comprehensive Law against Gender-based Violence adopted in 2004. 

We pressure the political parties not to approve legislation regulating prostitution in our country and to stop the expansion of the prostitution and pornography industries. 

We work to prevent the expansion of prostitution by doing workshops in schools, institutes, youth associations, universities, social movements, to change their mentality and help them understand what the abolition of prostitution is, as well as to educate them about an equal and non-violent sexuality, unlike the prostitution model. 

We have been raising social, institutional and political awareness about the abolition of prostitution through annual events for more than 30 years. 

We are now working on an INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN so that on November 25th, within the feminist movement, prostitution will be recognized as a form of violence against women, and that until prostitution is eradicated, we will not achieve real equality. 
We have appealed the inscription of the SINDICATO ‘OTRAS’ (‘OTHERS’ UNION) before the courts; the lawsuit was filed on September 11, 2018. 

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