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SPANISH LAW

What’s the law on prostitution in Spain?

With the Spanish Congress recently voting in favour of proposals to crack down on trafficking and pimping and punish those paying for sex work, we look into what Spain's current prostitution laws are and what could soon change.

What's the law on prostitution in Spain?
A sex worker waits in the street. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

Earlier this month, the Spanish Congress voted in favour of proposals to create legislation to crack down on prostitution, including harsher penalties for men buying sex and for those exploiting sex workers through pimping and trafficking.

With adverts for prostitutes, escorts, and euphemistic ‘massage parlours’ common online and around Spanish cities, as well as some women still working the streets in certain parts of town, prostitution certainly exists in Spain. But is it legal, or illegal? Or somewhere in the middle?

What is the current law, and what do the proposed changes involve? 

The law

There exists no single law that deals directly with prostitution in Spain. Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995, however, and its related activities, such as pimping, trafficking, and sexual exploitation are still illegal, and dealt with in Article 188 of the Criminal Code:

“Whoever causes a person of legal age to engage in prostitution or to continue to do so, with the use of violence, intimidation or deception, or by abusing a position of power or the dependency or vulnerability of the victim, shall be punished with a prison sentence of two to four years and a fine from 12 to 24 months. Gaining profit from the prostitution of another shall incur the same penalty, even with the consent of that person.”

Simply put, selling sex is not illegal in Spain but forcing someone into doing it is, as is gaining financially from it, even if that person consents. There are also rules against prostitution “in areas of public transit, or close to places where minors are (such as schools and parks) or in areas where there is a risk to the road safety.”

The illuminated sign of a brothel night club in La Jonquera in Spain. Photo: Raymond Roig/AFP

Prostitution in Spain

Although the clandestine nature of the business makes accurate data hard to find, according to a 2011 U.N. report Spain is the third biggest centre for prostitution in the world, behind only Thailand and Puerto Rico.

In 2016 UNAIDS estimated that over 70,000 prostitutes were working in Spain, but some estimates put that number as high 350,000. It is believed that 80 percent of them are foreigners, with many reportedly coming from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Morocco.  

TAMPEP, The European Network for the Promotion of Rights and Health Among Migrant Sex Workers, completed a study in 2009 that concluded 90 percent of sex workers in Spain were migrants. It found that almost half (49 percent) come from Latin America, around a quarter (24 percent) from Central Europe, often Romania and Bulgaria, and 18 percent from Africa.

Similarly, it is believed that many of the clients paying for sex – those who would be facing harsher punishments under the proposed legislation – also come from abroad, particularly traveling businessmen and truck drivers who take advantage of the legal grey area Spanish prostitution sits in.

However one in three men in Spain has paid for sex at least once in their lives, according to a 2009 survey by the country’s state-owned Social Investigations Centre (CIS).

READ ALSO: Spain’s PM vows to ‘abolish’ prostitution

The proposed changes

The changes proposed earlier this month seek to further crack down on pimping and exploitation, and punish men purchasing sex, including harsher sentences if the victim is vulnerable or underage. The legislation, proposed by governing party PSOE, would not make prostitution outright illegal, but rather the exploitative activity that surrounds the business, and comes as part of broader attempts to reframe prostitutes not as criminals but as victims. 

According to the draft, “agreeing to the practice of acts of a sexual nature in exchange for money or other type of provision of economic content will be punished with a fine of 12 to 24 months,” and makes clear that “in no case will a person who is in prostitution be punished.”

“In a democracy, women are not for purchase nor for sale,” Adriana Lastra, PSOE’s deputy secretary general, told Parliament.

After its introduction into Spain’s lower house earlier this month, 232 members from various political parties (including, crucially, both the governing PSOE and opposition PP) voted for the proposal, 38 against it and 69 abstained. The legislation will now bounce around the chamber as it is debated and amendments are suggested until it can be passed up to the Senate for confirmation.

The proposals have, however, caused some political debate. This is particularly true among feminists within the government, who are torn as to whether sex work is in itself exploitation or liberating, and maintain that the full scope of the legislation remains unclear.

Would the new law include strippers and exotic dancers, for example? This is unclear. So too is pornography, and popular payment websites such as OnlyFans. 

It is hoped these interpretations will be ironed out during the debate and amendment stage.

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For members

SPANISH LAW

What’s the law on magic mushrooms in Spain?

There are lots of misconceptions about drug laws in Spain. Magic mushrooms are no different, and though many assume they are entirely legal, in reality things are a little more complicated than that.

What’s the law on magic mushrooms in Spain?

In recent years, Barcelona has increasingly become known as the ‘new Amsterdam’ for its growing cannabis tourism industry. Though it is true that Barcelona (and Spain more broadly) is home to hundreds of these semi-legal smokers clubs, many tourists who come to Spain aren’t aware of the legal grey area that these sorts of places exist in.

In fact, thinking of drug laws in Spain more generally as existing in a ‘grey area’ is a good rule of thumb.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on cannabis in Spain?

Take magic mushrooms, for example, another drug very popular with types of tourists who go to Barcelona or Amsterdam.

Can you take magic mushrooms in Spain?

To cut a long short story, yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

We can’t say outright that magic mushrooms are entirely legal in Spain, but rather that they are, in certain circumstances, decriminalised.

Personal possession and consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms are both decriminalised in Spain, as long as the consumption is carried out on private property, and you can prove that you were not intending to sell or distribute them.

However, note that a legal loophole of the Spanish system means that while possession and consumption on private property are not, possession in public (even if you’re not actively consuming the drugs) is sanctionable with fines if caught.

The fine system is outlined in Spain’s Organic Law 4/2015 on the Protection of Citizen Security, where a whole range of fines are established from €601 up to €30,000 for the most serious crimes, depending on the type of drug it is, the quantity, and whether it’s your first time being fined for public drug possession (the concept of recidivism in Spanish law, which multiplies the fine).

What about growing them?

Growing mushrooms is also technically decriminalised in Spain (as it is with cannabis) but again on the condition that the cultivation is for personal use and not intended for resale or profit. That said, a little like the law in terms of cannabis cultivation, this also exists in somewhat of a legal grey area.

Growing magic mushrooms in Spain in large quantities would be considered a crime, and you could, if caught, even be charged with un delito contra la salud pública (a crime against public health, the law drug traffickers are often charged with) because some judges may see no other reason to grow large quantities without intending to distribute or sell them, which is against the law.

READ ALSO: What are the penalties for drug possession in Spain?

That said, like most drug policy in Spain, exactly what constitutes a large quantity is open to interpretation, but Spanish law with regards to drugs essentially seems to tolerate and decriminalise personal use on private property, but criminalises selling drugs or consuming them in public.

Is it illegal to buy a grow kit?

No. You can buy grow kits online, so long as you don’t use them to grow large quantities to sell.

So, with that in mind, you can grow (and take) magic mushrooms at home in Spain.

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