City Council in Alicante, Spain Repeal Anti-Sex Work Bylaws

European Regional Correspondent

The City Council of Alicante, Spain has approved the repeal of the bylaw on panhandling and sex work adopted by the previous government. The new City Council considers people who participate in these activities as victims that should not be criminalised or discriminated against.  

As councillor Nerea Belmonte said, the bylaw "did not make Alicante to be a more just and egalitarian city" and neither helped "to fight mafias".

Under the previous bylaws, sex workers, clients and panhandlers had to pay fines ranging between 750€ and 3,000€.

Street-based sex work is still penalised in some other regions of Spain. Indoor sex work is not penalised in Spain.

The Regional Correspondent in Europe interviewed Miguel Angel, sociologist from CATS, the sex workers’ rights organisation that works in Murcia and Alicante. “Since 2006 in Spain women engaged in sex work in public places as well as customers who demand their services are punished with fines. After ten years of expansion of these measures among the Spanish municipalities, this week the city of Alicante approved the repeal of this legislation. It happened due to a political change in the government,” said Miguel Angel.

“After two years of application of this rules, it has been shown that the real objective of this has not been the ‘eradication of prostitution’ in the municipality of Murcia, but its zoning, that is, move the activity from certain not tolerated areas where local pressure is representing a public problem for the city hall of Murcia, to more remote areas far from center,” continued Miguel Angel.

The high level of unemployment in Spain (20.5 percent generally and 45 percent among those under 25) and cuts to social benefits are leading to desperate situations. The number of spanish citizens in sex work is growing, while in the past this industry was dominated by migrant sex workers.

“Given the nature of the profile of people working on the street and punished by this bylaw, it has become clear that this bylaw is criminalising poverty, making the working and living conditions of street sex workers even more precarious, aggravating the situation of social exclusion suffered by many of them. Sex workers are fined three times more frequently than customers,” tells Miguel Angel.

In many occasions street-based sex workers are unlawfully fined. They can be fined if they are clustered in groups of more than 2 people, are found in the company of a man, even if that person is not a client, enter or leave their home, or if a sex worker walks away or turns in the other direction when they see a police officer. Essentially, sex workers and panhandlers become known the the police and the police harass them and give them fines. Sex workers and panhandlers are not actually persecuted based on their behaviours. 

“The bylaw is also fining customers, it has caused a significant drop in the price of service, up to five euros per service in some cases. There are fewer customers, more insecurity and lower capacity to negotiate the service, which together with the desperation of the crisis and fines, has significantly lowered the price and the amount of work.  According to sex workers we spoke with, it is very difficult now to live with the money that gives the street. Coupled with the limited possibilities to enter the formal labor market, where before they could eventually get a job to combine with working on the street, the situation is very difficult.”

“Such repeal of the bylaw can be a positive precedent for other municipalities where political change is imperative,” added Miguel Angel.