Current crisis hurt prostitutes in Spain
Brothels and clubs are offering discounts and more as Spain feels severity of the economy slump.A madame - or mami, in the current jargon - introduces the girl as Ana. She is very young and beautiful, and quite unassuming. She is wearing a Spanish national soccer team t-shirt and a thong.
"She is natural, empathetic - that is always the way with Spanish senoritas," explains Ana's madame. Ana exhibits a dull gaze and a soft smile as she greets the client, and says she is just getting started in the business.
It is early morning at a high-end prostitution club that is well known on the Mediterranean coast.
This is just one of many similar businesses that charge anywhere from a few euros to 200 per service.
But both the low-end and the high-end establishments would normally be charging a lot more than that, if it were not for the economic crisis.
Some clubs are open 24 hours and wake the girls up when there is work. The daytime schedule makes it easier for clients to drop by at lunchtime. The discretion with which business is conducted and the special offers starting at EUR 20 have lured a mixed crowd ranging from businessmen in suits to workers in overalls.
More Spanish girls turn to prostitution
Brothels and clubs such as this one are mushrooming due to lack of legislation. And for the first time in many years, they are showcasing their Spanish girls as the main attraction.
The boom of foreign prostitutes that took place in recent years had all but relegated Spanish girls to the most marginal markets such as industrial parks outside small towns.
But now, newspaper and local television ads are screaming out their presence. Sometimes they go as far as to specify the region the prostitutes are from: Catalan senoritas, Andalusian chicas and others.
According to Laura, the owner of a massage parlour in downtown Valencia, "each day there are more national girls offering their services".
Laura, a middle-aged woman who used to be a prostitute, is also Spanish. "I fell into this because of serious money problems," she explains. "Years ago, Spanish girls could work as go-go dancers at nightclubs or whatever, but now the economy is real bad."
"Besides, right now clients are paying more for them," she adds.
It was the other way around years ago when the first sculptural foreigners arrived in Spain courtesy of international mafias. But now, even specialised websites stress whether an advertised girl was born in Spain.
Amaranta Foundation, a religious non-profit group that helps women caught up in prostitution and crime, confirms that there has been a rise in the number of Spanish-born prostitutes working in private apartments. In the case of telephone and internet contacts, sex takes place on the street or inside the client's car.
"They are girls who want fast money in a specific way. They see prostitution as a way to make things change for them," says Pilar Casas, the director of Amaranta.
"In most cases they are teenage girls with dysfunctional social and family backgrounds. They have a varied history of abuse, a lack of culture and social skills, and no self-esteem."
Casas says that they are "girls for whom it is very difficult to be part of the system and its demands, especially now with the economic crisis."
Even though 85 percent of prostitutes in Spain are foreign, Spanish girls now make up to 30 percent at apartment-based brothels, according to Amaranta. This trend is often linked to alcohol and cocaine use.
"It is becoming more common. Most Spanish girls are already hooked before becoming prostitutes, and when they start working they go completely under," says Laura, the owner of a massage parlour.
A study conducted by Carmen Meneses, of the Catholic university, Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Madrid, shows that of all the prostitutes who were interviewed by researchers, the Spaniards had experimented with cocaine before resorting to prostitution, while the foreigners had not.
Alcohol and cocaine allow them to put up with an activity that they generally abhor, the study concludes.
"Consuming drugs can lead to unprotected sex with their clients and becoming the victims of attacks," reads the report.
Added to all this is the fact that many young prostitutes owe money, either to banks to pay off a mortgage in the case of Spaniards, or to the mafia in the case of the foreigners. They have to share profits with pimps and club owners, and sometimes even pay for plastic surgery, an especially common occurrence in the medium- to high-end sector.
One in four pays for sex
As for how many women sell their bodies in Spain, official government figures have placed the number at slightly higher than 100,000, while non-official estimates have often floated around 300,000. However, much higher numbers are also thrown around. Government experts speculate that business turnover is between around EUR 50 million a day.
A study by researchers from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III health research centre places Spain as the developed country with the highest rate of prostitution; a country where one out of every four men has paid for sex.
Prostitution has been assimilated, and the modern roadside club has been the great provider. But even that model is drying up, it seems.
"It appears to be changing," agrees Esperanza Casals, a sexologist and the director of the applied psychology group Espai.
"Prostitution has been assimilated as a form of massive consumption for entertainment purposes that is separate from morals. And it happened through the use of these establishments as weekend resorts or for stag parties."
Marketing sex in a different way
With the recession in full swing, the clubs are now trying to sell the same product in a different way.
Just like average-priced stores imitate Italian designs, prostitution clubs now offer first-class services at cut-rate prices. They try to lure clients by improving their decoration or adding a casino, a swimming pool, a jacuzzi, a sexual spa or theme nights.
They take out ads on local radio and television stations, and use similar slogans such as "A Real Luxury," Forbidden Luxury," or "Luxury you can Afford." Some clubs are now reducing the average price of EUR 70 for a half-hour of sex to EUR 50.
On weekdays, some clubs offer drinks for EUR 7. Others advertise themselves as high-class despite the following offer: full service and a free beer for EUR 20.
While some agencies hire out "escorts" for EUR 600, some clubs offer them for EUR 60. In some places it is possible to enjoy dinner, a porn show, a drink and a door-to-door pick-up service for just EUR 49.
Some top luxury establishments advertise services inside suites for EUR 150, while others offer EUR 40 for 15 minutes; EUR 50 for 30 minutes. Even the higher-end clubs offer discount rates for three hours or more.
The blowout sales are now on all year round.
text: El Pais / Joan M Oleaque / Expatica 2008
photo credit: maveric2003