Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Sonia Sánchez - "The brothel is like a torture chamber..."

"The brothel is like a torture chamber, and the sex buyer is the torturer. When you enter that room, all you want is to get it over with. Your mind becomes unattached from your body. You’re scared that they’ll lock the door and leave you completely exposed to the beating. When this is repeated several times a day, isn’t this systematic torture? The puta may know more about a man’s body than the non-puta, but it’s hard to do anything with that knowledge because it’s a product of rape and torture. That man knows he is taking advantage of your body in its most vulnerable state. That’s why it’s a lie to say the puta decides how much to charge. The price is set by your age, your hunger and the buyer who knows your weakness and uses it."

Sonia Sánchez, Argentinian prostitution survivor, activist and author.

Original article in Spanish here

Thursday, 7 March 2019

An interview with Colombian prostitution survivor & activist Beatriz Rodríguez

Beatriz Rodríguez’ life was turned upside down when her family introduced her into prostitution at the age of 14. What she calls her “kidnapping” lasted 22 years. She was born in the city of Pereira, Colombia, but eventually ended up in Florencia, another Colombian city where she found a way out and a reason to live - to help other women to escape the clutches of the traffickers who send women in their thousands to countries across the world. She is now aged 50 and the association she directs, which began as a local government-funded project that trained women to be butchers , has grown into an integrated project of empowerment and development for women in the region. Her brave work, undertaken in a conflict hot spot in Colombia, earned her a Nobel prize nomination.

How did you enter prostitution?
I was trafficked by my family. When I was 14, still a girl, my mother took me to my aunt who owned a brothel. Virginity is highly prized in my country, so when I lost mine I was no longer worth anything. My mother thought it would be impossible to get me married off, so there was nothing else to do with me. She told me that I had to be responsible and go and work with my aunt.

You were sexually exploited for over 20 years. How did it affect you psychologically and how were you able to withstand it?

I was kidnapped from my own body and my own world. Back then, I didn’t analyse it, I survived without thinking about it or feeling it. I could never give myself the space to sit down and cry for all the pain and damage I was suffering. It was simply what I was taught to do as a girl. I was subjugated, coerced and convinced that this was my lot in life. I didn’t have that space to react. When I managed to get out, I began to hurt. I had sleepless nights, I couldn’t have sexual relations with my partner, I couldn’t leave behind the guilt and fear. Now I feel the pain, but back then I doing was what my mother had taught me.

Was your mother in prostitution?

No, she was never in that situation.

What were the other women you met like during those years?

As the prostitution survivor and activist Amelia Tiganus says, the brothels are concentration camps, where every type of pain and crime that could be committed against a human being converge. They are places of abuse and extreme violence. Brothels are also places of drug and alcohol addiction. Personally, I used alcohol as a palliative to get through it. We were under constant danger of Illness, AIDs, pregnancy, beatings and kidnappings. In my case, I spent most of the time held captive, without documents, and the money that was paid for my abuse never came into my hands.

How was this network set up so that you couldn’t escape?

They took away your documents, so you couldn't go out on the street. Our society and laws put all the blame on the putas. They also take away all your economic capacity and keep you controlled constantly, under lock and key. I have three children - a daughter and a son who are both 34 and another daughter who’s now 28. When I gave birth, I handed the babies over to my mother and carried on working without any postnatal care.

Fortunately, you got out of that hell. How did you do it?

We formed a group of 20 women and gained support from the mayoress of Florencia, the city in the Amazon in Colombia where I ended up being trafficked to and where I still live. Lucrecia Murcia had promised her electorate she would create a “resocialisation” program for vulnerable groups, including the prostituted women, who they referred to as “sex workers”. She helped us get funding through the University of the Amazon for training in meat production, and we formed AOMUPCAR (Association of Women Butchers & Meatpackers of Caquetá). We started out making sausages, ribs and hamburgers, but we’ve grown into a social, political and economic platform for the women in the region.

Now AOMUPCAR is a school of psychological, medical, pedagogic and productive empowerment for women in the region. It has even opposed forced evictions. Why didn’t you change the name?

We kept the name in memory of our origins, but most of all for security reasons. In a way, the name acts as a protection in a very violent region. Here the armed conflict in the drug and arms trade involves many groups – the military, paramilitaries, the US army, crime gangs. It isn’t easy to do our work in this territory because they don’t like us taking away the women, their spoils of war. They don’t want women to empower themselves.

How is the armed conflict in Colombia related to trafficking and sexual exploitation?

In a way, the zone of conflict acts as a breeding ground, a place to experiment with new types of trafficking and prostitution. The drugs trade and the sex trade are both important for the economy. It’s a matter of powerful men buying whatever they want, which includes women’s bodies and lives. To them we are just things, tools, easy to buy and easy to manage. On the other side, the government doesn’t even consider trying to abolish prostitution because they reap huge economic benefits from it. From my home city of Pereira, which has 476,000 inhabitants and is in the coffee-growing region of Colombia, we’ve counted 42,000 women trafficked to Spain alone, but many more are taken across Europe and to Japan. It’s an economic benefit that no state wants to lose.

How has feminism helped you to face your past and be able to help others?

I’ll be very honest, I don’t know a lot about law or academia. What helped me to heal was the work I do with other women. To be able to rescue them from danger, open their eyes, to listen to them and alleviate their pain. I am grateful for whatever academics can do to help women, but I want to continue rescuing them and helping them to overcome the situation they’re in.

In Spain, feminism is divided. Some women believe that prostitution should be recognised as work and others think that abolition is the only way. What do you think?

This is not a job, it’s not an industry, it’s not commerce. The scourge of prostitution is nothing more than the use and abuse of women and girls’ dignity. You can’t dress it up. When we talk of industry and work, we think in terms of regulations that apply to both the clients and the people contracted to do a job. I ask, how would you regulate prostitution? By the number of times you penetrate me anally, penetrate me vaginally, suck my breasts? How do I negotiate with a buyer? I don’t get it. I’m tired of hearing it being called a job. You can’t regulate abuse.

Translated by Ben Riddick
Original article in Spanish here

Friday, 8 February 2019

APROSEX - The Spanish "Sex Workers Association" which offers an Introduction to Prostitution course receives €25,000 in government funding

By Anna Pratts, 07/08/2018

APROSEX, an association of “professional sex workers” based in Barcelona which offers an “Introduction to the Prostitution Profession” course, received over €25,000 in grants from local government authorities between 2016 and 2018. 

The three-day course is conducted via Skype and costs €90. According to the APROSEX (Asociación de Profesionales del Sexo) website the course is broken down under the following headings;

-          Why do I want to be a prostitute?
-          Insisting...do  I really want to be a whore?
-          Have you thought about the drawbacks?
-          Do I feel ready to practice this profession?
-          Little and “not so little” sex tricks
-          An introduction to stigma in prostitution and its consequences for mental health
-          The professionalisation of sex workers
-          The tax office and social security
-          Marketing for sex workers

There is no mention of strategies to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or the abuse and violence they may suffer at the hands of their future “clients.”

APROSEX, in the words of its president, Paula VIP (real name, Conxa Borrell), is “a non-profit organisation which aims to create a network of sex industry workers, and a political platform to oppose abolitionists and prohibitionists.” In their 2017 manifesto they label prostitution abolitionists as “whorephobes” and accuse them of “poisoning feminism.”

APROSEX president Conxa Borrell

The manifesto, entitled “Abolitionism Vs. Feminism”, has been endorsed by politicians such as Antonio Baños, an important figure in the left-wing pro-Catalan independence party CUP, and AMMAR, an Argentinian “sex workers union” whose leading members have been tried for the crimes of sex trafficking and pimping.

In a 2014 interview APROSEX president Conxa Borrell said that many of the young girls between the ages of 18 to 23 who want to enter prostitution do so to pay for studies or to help their families. Apparently, women of 50 years or older also sign up because they struggle to find employment elsewhere and “have hardly been with any men other than their husbands, but there´s a market for them because they’re affectionate, they know how to get men off and they’re up for the job... A puta who doesn’t like sex is like an anorexic food critic.”

Borrell considers that a professional prostitute should be emotionally intelligent and develop empathy with the male sex buyers in order to improve client retention; “We putas are clever, we know that we don’t make money with our vaginas – all women have a vagina  - but by using our heads. Listening to the client is fundamental. You should pay attention to them like they're the most important person in the world and memorise all the information they give you.”

APROSEX's “Give me the blowjob of your life” course description

In 2016 APROSEX also offered a men-only course entitled “Give me the blowjob of your life”. Enrolment on the 90-minute workshop cost €60 and was advertised on their website with the following description:

 “Many of you complain that saintly women, and even some putas, don’t know how to suck it properly. We believe the problem isn’t that they don’t know how to use their tongue and mouth, but that you don’t know how to direct them. You let yourself get carried away by your own pleasure, but don’t really understand that you also produce an extraordinary delight in the woman. This workshop, like the others we organise, is practical. That means the blowjobs will be real. No dildos, bananas or cucumbers. They’re fine for nibbling, but sucking a fully erect penis is always preferable...”

APROSEX's "How To Strip Yourself and a Man" course

Other workshops offered on the website include ‘The Art Of Fellatio’ taught by Anna Alba Escort, and ‘How To Strip Yourself and a Man’ by Martina de la Terra Escort.

You may be asking yourself whether this isn’t just standard prostitution presented in the form of a ‘course’? What’s the difference? Where would you draw the line? The APROSEX collective have not responded to questions, limiting themselves to accusing their critics of “whorephobia”. When I posted screenshotsof the course description and documents on Twitter which revealed the local government funding they received, the group’s founder responded by claiming this was “a hate campaign, ran by privileged people who are not stigmatised.”

The Eulalia Roig escort agency promoted by APROSEX

The APROSEX homepage features a link to a forum called Geishas VIP which is hosted from the same IP address as the main APROSEX site and Conxa Borrell’s personal website. Geishas VIP has an ‘agencies’ subforum where they officially recommend one such business in particular, Eulalia Roig, which offers on its website “an exquisite selection of the most select escorts that can be found in Barcelona. Get in contact to arrange an unforgettable date.”

How much do the women and girls have to pay to this agency and what is its relationship to Aprosex? Are the women and girls who attend their Introduction to Prostitution course also introduced to Eulalia Roig? Aprosex have declined to comment.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

New report finds 100,000 men use prostitution on the Balearic islands each year

New research into the sex trade on the Balearic Islands estimates that around 100,000 men use prostitutes there every year. There are thought to be around 2,350 prostituted women on the Mediterranean islands of Ibiza, Majorca, Minorca and Formentera, although the study indicates that this figure is likely to be an underestimate.

A police operation targetting prostituted women in Magaluf

A new investigation into the prostitution industry has been carried out by the GEBIP, a coalition of prostitution researchers from several organisations working on the Balearic islands. The report is the first of its kind to focus on male buyers on the Spanish islands, including permanent residents, seasonal workers and tourists.

The study found that around 4,900 men were ‘heavy’ consumers who used prostituted women 5 times or more a month. 15,000 men paid for sex acts 3 or 4 times a month, while around 25,000 paid once a month. In addition to these groups of residents, tourists and seasonal workers bring the figure up to roughly 100,000 male users a year. During the tourist season the consumption of prostitution increases dramatically on the Spanish islands, where the sex trade is estimated to be worth at least 50 million euros a year.

This demand is attended to by around 2,350 prostituted women, of whom 600 are paid to perform sex acts by at least 20 men a week, while 750 attend to 10 men a week. According to interviews conducted as part of the study, most of these women have been trafficked and trapped in debt bondage by their pimps, forcing them to attend to more men. There is also a growing trend in ‘part-time’ prostitution, with around 1000 women who attend to 3 or 4 men a week, mainly during the tourist season. Most of the women also have low-paid jobs outside of the sex industry.

The report also highlights the many damaging effects of the islands’ economic crisis on women and children in prostitution. Hardship and tough competition is driving down prices, meaning prostituted women are being forced to perform more high-risk sexual acts demanded by male buyers, including penetration without a condom. The number of women aged 40 or over in prostitution is also on the increase, many of whom use the money to support their families. The sexual exploitation of minors, who are usually homeless or from very poor families, is also on the rise according to the study.

The investigation found that women and girls are increasingly being pimped in small apartments where they are less visible and more vulnerable to violence. The policy of fining prostituted women by the local authorities has been condemned by Medicos del Mundo, an NGO which forms part of the GEBIP, and works with victims of the sex trade. Alberto Gundin, a spokesman for the organisation, condemns the criminalisation of the women, stating that “they aren’t ‘delinquents’ or antisocial people who need punishment. They are victims of sex trafficking”. Gundin also points out that the vast majority of fines are given to women who have been trafficked from African countries and not usually women of other nationalities, leading to accusations of institutional racism. The report concludes that penalising prostituted women increases their stigmatisation and subjection to sexual violence, and that the pressure needs to be transferred to the male buyers.

Translation and adaption by Ben Riddick

Spanish source text here

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Prostitution & Patriarchal Rituals at the San Fermin Festival – Amelia Tiganus

The festival of San Fermin in the small Spanish city of Pamplona attracts over a million revellers each year and is famous for the ‘running of the bulls’. The event has been marred by numerous reports of sexual harassment, abuse and rape in recent years, including the gang rape of a 19 year old girl by a group of five men in 2016. In this article for feminicidio.net Amelia Tiganus reveals the dark side of the fiesta that has become normalised by the patriarchal state – the massive demand for prostitution by the male festival goers. Amelia, herself a survivor of sex trafficking, invites us to imagine the unimaginable as she describes the hellish conditions in the brothels of San Fermin.

"San Fermodels" - A flyer advertising a brothel distributed at the festival

“Working” as a prostitute in one of Pamplona’s brothels during the festival of San Fermin is one of the most traumatic and punishing ordeals that a female body could possibly undergo. This is how it works; it happens to women because they are women, just as it does in Amsterdam, Cali and Bangkok, if not every city in the world.

In prostitution the women do not have a choice. They are forced to accept the rules of the game as dictated by the pimps – often disguised as legitimate businessmen working in the leisure industry in Spain - and the male buyers. The alliance between pimp and punter is one of the strongest and most loyal in the patriarchy and the two roles have a common purpose: to uphold male dominance and masculinity. This explains their need to create spaces where men can go to objectify, subordinate, humiliate, use and torture women, all under the protection of the pimp state. The existence of brothels is the clearest sign that the patriarchy is unwilling to allow women equality. While brothels exist, there will always be a space reserved where masculinity can dominate. A place where male citizens can exploit and then dispose of women, facilitated by the state, the law, the judges, the police, the political parties, the religions and an indifferent society.

So, let’s start by trying to imagine the scene inside a brothel during the festival of San Fermin; hundreds of women are trafficked to the small city in Navarra especially for the fiesta and packed into the brothels like battery hens, sometimes four or five to a room. During the day they are locked in and they sleep in the same small, asphyxiating rooms where dozens of men will pass later that night. Meanwhile, outside the brothel walls, the bulls are also being imprisoned, tortured and killed by groups of men in an age-old ritual. Packs of men who kill for the sake of it, because they are given the licence to use and enjoy violence by the patriarchy.

These groups of men practice what Argentine-Brazilian anthropologist Rita Segato calls “the pedagogy of cruelty”. Namely, a strategy of habitual cruelty for the purpose of numbing us to its effects.

Imagine what this pedagogy of cruelty does to women’s bodies in the brothels of Pamplona. Now, imagine that this happens because society permits it and that the state finances and defends it in the name of tradition. A patriarchal, and therefore untouchable, tradition.

The last women to arrive at the festival’s brothels have to sleep on mattresses on the floor due to the lack of beds. They have to pay to use the rooms, which cost more than half of their earnings. Many pimps openly admit “you have to charge them for everything they do inside the club. Bed, food, clothes, jewellery, perfume, cocaine...”

Imagine that the day begins at five in the afternoon, when the women leave their rooms and wait in the bar for the men to arrive. There isn’t much demand during the afternoon. The great influx begins at nightfall. Groups of drunken men invade the brothels dressed in their traditional white suits and red scarves. They keep arriving well into the next morning. Men of all ages and nationalities. The taxi drivers receive a commission from the brothel owners for every group of men they bring. They come emboldened and soaked in sweat from the festivities. Most of them ask for group sex and they usually get what they want. The more ‘services’ that are on offer, the bigger the takings for the pimps.

The close confinement of the women becomes starkly apparent as the brothel corridors become inundated by long queues of men. It is very common to see groups of men lining up to be serviced in brothels but during the festival of San Fermin this group behaviour becomes even more pronounced. Once inside the room the groups celebrate their patriarchal brotherhood with rough, violent sex and what can only be described as torture, usually inflicted up on a single woman. The loud music and stench of tobacco and alcohol in the room is unbearable. Can you imagine the scene?

"2 Bulls plus 125 girls" - A flyer distributed at the festival

Afterwards, in the late hours of the morning, the women are left to bear the solitude and try to recuperate, only to repeat it all over again in the evening. Try to imagine a term or phrase that could define what happens to women in these conditions. What name would you give it?

Is it any wonder that some of us consider the brothel to be a concentration camp, constructed exclusively for women? A space where groups of men can return to, time and time again, until they erase every last trace of humanity from the women.

Now, could you imagine if all of this was legal? Well...it is.

The council of Pamplona has produced a guide especially for the festival: “for a fiesta free of sexual abuse and harassment”. In this pamphlet they define male violence as “a form of violence based on hierarchical relationships, on relationships of power that place men above women, which aims to ensure that women take a submissive role in life”.

Where does my story fit in with this public prevention campaign?

Advertisements for sexual services in the local newspaper during San Fermin

Can you imagine advertisements for sexual services filling entire pages in the local newspaper during the festival, in plain view of children? Well...they do. The most important regional newspaper Noticias de Navarra directly benefits from sexual exploitation through this advertising revenue.

What cannot be imagined is the horror that the women experience in these brothels. Only women who are poor, migrant, racialised and sexually exploited by colonialism and prostitution know how it feels. It happens to women because they are women. That unimaginable horror is unleashed each day during the festival of San Fermin, where groups of men come every year in their thousands to revel in their patriarchal rituals.

Amelia Tiganus -- Feminicidio.net -- 08/07/2017

Amelia Tiganus - prostitution survivor and feminist activist

Translation by Ben Riddick

Original article in Spanish here

Friday, 7 July 2017

How Spain's Brothels Filled with Romanian Women & Girls

60% of women prostituted in Spanish brothels are from Romania, but how do they get there? This article draws on interviews with prostitution survivors, the police and prosecutors to reveal how Romanian trafficking gangs are extending their operations across Spain.

Spanish police raiding a brothel where young Romanian women are expolited.


Early one morning in August 2007, an 18 year old girl stepped onto a bus that would take her away from her hometown of Slobozia in south-eastern Romania. Marina carried nothing more than a small backpack containing a bundle of clothes and a few family mementoes; a photo of her two little sisters and a silver necklace that her mother had given her. Although many tears were shed the night before leaving, she hoped to build a better life. She was travelling to Spain to work on a farm. It wasn't her dream job (she had always wanted to work in an office), but the promise of a better future kept a smile on her face for the entire journey. 

The minibus, which also carried another 15 young women from Slobozia, travelled 4,500 km and passed through five countries; Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany and France. The journey took three and a half days and its final destination was a town in the province of Valencia.

On arrival they were met by two Romanian men of intimidating appearance; they were muscle-bound and their arms and necks were covered in tattoos. They took the girls to a large building where they were joined by another five or six Latin American women. There were 25 individual rooms on the top floor and Marina was given room 12: a number that is burned into her memory forever. That first night she slept in the room where, for the following two years, she would go through hell.  

The following morning the two men brought all the girls together in a canteen on the ground floor. A third man, thinner and better dressed, accompanied them. The stranger announced that from that moment on they would be prostitutes and, without another word, the two henchmen slapped each of the young women across the face. Two of the girls who struggled were punched in the ribs and kicked in the legs. The others, scared to death, did not put up any resistance.

Marina was exploited in the brothel for almost two years, from five in the afternoon until five in the morning, seven days a week. She attended to a minimum of four men each day but on some days there were as many as 15. The trafficking gang kept almost all of the women’s earnings and paid to rent the rooms from the Spanish owner of the building.

Marina managed to escape one morning in July 2009. At the break of dawn she jumped out of the window of her room onto the patio below, climbed over a fence and ran. She made it to a hospital in a nearby town, where she received medical attention and was attended to by social services. However, she did not report what had happened to the police. Today Marina lives in a town in Castellón with her partner, a Valenciano. She is now 27 years old and the mother of two little girls. "Now I'm happy. Little by little, I'm putting what happened behind me".


"Today, six out of ten women prostituted in Spanish brothels come from Romania, which is a fairly recent development", says José Nieto, chief inspector at the Center of Intelligence and Risk Analysis (CIAR) with Spain’s National Police. Romanian trafficking mafias have “filled this country's brothels" he adds.

But how have they done it? The increase in 18 to 30 year old Romanian women entering Spain to be sexually exploited began in the mid 2000s, following a change in immigration law. Since 2001, all citizens of Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba are required to have a visa to enter the country. Up until then, Spain's brothels had been filled with Latina women. The shared language and similarities in culture were considered attractive by male buyers in Spain. After the change in the law, the number of Latina women fell sharply and the brothel owners began to look for girls from other countries. At this point the Romanian mafias entered the picture.

Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, belongs to the ‘Schengen Area’ of European states where border controls have been abolished. The mafias began to traffick hundreds of young girls across the borders, usually lured by false offers of work. First, they are usually transported across the Hungarian border by bus. Once inside Hungary, the journey to Spain is simple. "They pass from one country to another by road", says Nieto. "It's the cheapest method and the traffickers are looking to reduce costs".

The two main routes used to traffick women from Romania to Spain (APRAMP)

There are two main trafficking routes from Romania to Spain; Hungary-Austria-Italy- France, or via Hungary-Austria-Germany-France. Buses or minibuses are used for the journey, which usually costs no more than 80 euros. "They’ve installed a low-cost model", explains inspector Nieto from his office in Madrid. "Low travel costs, lots of work done by hand..."

When the women and girls arrive in Spain they are installed in brothels which are usually Spanish-owned. Here the vicious circle begins; the Romanian pimps supply the (usually very young) women to attract men to the brothels, the pimps collect the money at the end of each day, then they pay the rent to the brothel owner.

This system ensures that all parties make a profit except the women. "That's the process here and now 60% of the women prostituted in the brothels in Spain are from Romania", says Nieto. "The women only get a few euros to buy cigarettes and little else". 


In the past the Romanian sex trafficking gangs, according to inspector Nieto, were "in thrall to the bigger Russian mafias", traditionally the most dangerous and violent criminal organisations in Eastern Europe. But the Romanian gangs have learned from their big brothers and perfected their working methods. Although they use violence against the women, they hardly ever kill them. "They know they’ll make a lot of money from the women, so the pimps don't allow it. That would be like killing the golden goose", says inspector Nieto. "But of course they use violence. When the women don't make enough money, they beat them".

Police raid a brothel in Ibiza where 10 Romanian women were exploited

Their modus operandi is the following; each day, in the final hour of the morning, the pimp calls by the brothel where the women are being sexually exploited with the complicity of the brothel owner. He is accompanied by several other gang members and the madams who they employ to run the brothels. The pimp assembles all the women together and they hand over all of their earnings to him. Then, in front of all the others, they beat the woman who made the least money, as a way to indoctrinate and terrify them into submission. "They demand results and if they don’t get them, they beat the women. They terrify all of the women by picking out one to be beaten each day”.


The Romanian mafias have not only extended their tentacles into the brothels in Spain. They have also developed other ways of making money from the women, including forced marriage and the sexual exploitation of young girls, including minors, renting single rooms and apartments in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, Seville and other locations across Spain.

In the case of forced marriage, the Romanian mafias arrange for the young women to marry men who want to obtain an EU residence card. The men are usually from sub-Saharan African countries, who they charge around 10,000 euros per marriage. Nigerian mafias, who are also heavily involved in the sex trade, often marry their bosses to Romanian women in Spain so they can stay in the country and move around Europe freely. Once they are married, they can control the women and concentrate on other criminal activities such as dealing in counterfeit money, gambling or trafficking stolen vehicles.

Although the marriages are recorded as being voluntary by the Spanish justice system, in reality the women are coerced by the traffickers who brought them into the country. Practically all of the profits go to the criminal organisations, not the women.  "We can only act if the girls report to the police", says Nieto. "Investigating these types of cases is very complicated because it's totally legal". Once married, the girls continue to be sexually exploited by the pimps through prostitution.

In addition to brothels and forced marriages, the Romanian mafias have also expanded into prostituting women in individual rented rooms where they can imprison one, or sometimes several young women at a time. These women are usually between 14 and 20 years old. In the case of minors, the parents have to give legal authorisation to allow them to leave Romania unaccompanied. In return for signing the authorisation they receive between 2000 and 3000 euros from the traffickers.

"In Spain more and more young women are being offered in single rooms and rented apartments, and many of them are minors", explains Rocío Mora, the director of APRAMP, an NGO that provides support to prostituted women and favours the abolition of the sex trade. "The younger they are, the more vulnerable they are. That's why they enslave them in single rooms which become prison cells".


Maria was trafficked into Spain when she was a minor, shortly after her father died. Her mother, unable to look after her alone, signed the authorisation for the journey and handed her daughter over to a mafia in exchange for 5000 euros. Although Maria thought she would be working on a farm or in domestic work, the reality that awaited her was very different. 

She was taken to a bar in a town of 2000 inhabitants in the province of Toledo, central Spain. Four members of a Romanian clan installed María in a flat which was supervised by a madam 24 hours a day. She wasn’t allowed to leave the building and if she refused to service a client she was beaten and drugged. She was also forced to marry one of the clan members, who raped her whenever he wanted.

The girl, who contracted a serious sexually transmitted disease, was freed at the beginning of July this year. After living through countless assaults, she decided to report. A short time before her rescue she was at the point of being sold again to another Romanian mafia for 2000 euros. However, the sale did not go through due to a disagreement over the price. Today María is trying to rebuild her life with the help of APRAMP.

Street prostitution in Madrid

"Everything is very well-planned and orchestrated”, explains Rocío Mora. “The buyer phones to obtain the services of a girl, then the pimps go to pick him up in a car and take him to the room, trying not to reveal the exact location". The girls have to be available 24 hours a day and some service up to 40 men a day. "They don't rest or go out into the street. Once inside, it is very difficult for them to leave a place like that. What's more, they are terrified by threats of violence against their families if they tell anyone about their situation”.

45% of all the the women that APRAMP attend to are from Romania. The NGO has identified the cities where most of the girls come from; a list which includes Bucharest, Tulcea, Babadag, Bistrita, Galati, Suceava, Constata, Slobozia, Buzau and Vrancea. 
The victims come from extremely low-income families, and are often from Roma gypsy communities that suffer discrimination and exclusion. Some parents are tempted into selling their daughters to the mafias as a way to reduce the economic burden on the family, explains inspector Nieto.


Although the trafficking mafias' traditional way of luring young women into prostitution is by offering them fake job contracts, the Spanish National Police have detected a relatively new method: the use of 'lover boys'. Romanian traffickers employ seemingly kindly, good-looking men to seduce vulnerable young women. After falling in love they are persuaded to go to Spain to find work. Once they arrive they are forced into prostitution. Patricia Fernández, a Spanish Prosecutor specialising in immigration issues, confirms that the ‘lover boy’ approach is becoming more common; “they romance the girls, take them to Spain and then abandon them to the mafias".

In 2015 Spanish prosecutors attended to 169 cases of sexually exploited Romanian women, three of whom were minors. 24 members of Eastern European mafias were sentenced to prison for human trafficking in Spain in 2014. "To get to the root of the problem it’s necessary for us to work with the Romanian authorities", explains Patricia Fernández. "If we don’t, it will be impossible to put an end to it".


In February 2013 Ioan Clamparu, alias 'Pig’s Head', was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a court in Madrid for crimes including human trafficking and procuring for prostitution. The 30-year stretch was the maximum sentence requested by the prosecutors and was unprecedented in its severity. He was accused of heading one of the biggest Romanian mafia groups and had been on the run from Romania for eight years before he was arrested in Spain.
Romanian crime boss Ioan "Pig's Head" Clamparu is serving a 30 year sentence
During the trial, the victims who dared to testify against him told of how informers had their lips stitched together with wire by gang members. One prostituted woman had been tied to a tree and eaten by dogs. There were cases of women who had miscarried after being beaten by pimps, yet were forced to continue servicing men straight after losing their babies by inserting cotton buds into their vaginas.

Although Ioan Clamparu is behind bars, the Romanian mafias continue to be active all across Spain and the authorities believe that they currently operate as a multitude of small gangs, without an overarching leader. They are dominating the prostitution business in Madrid and all along the eastern coast of Spain, from Girona to the Costa del Sol, filling brothels with vulnerable young Romanian women who dreamed of a better life. 

By Andros Lozano, 02/10/2016

Translation by Ben Riddick

Original article in Spanish here

Friday, 23 June 2017

Prostitution Survivor Alika Kinan: The Battle for Justice at the End of the World

Alika Kinan was trafficked and sexually exploited over a period of 20 years in the brothels of Ushuaia in Southern Argentina. In 2016 she made history when she took both her pimps and the Argentinian state itself to court...and won.

A short film about Alika with English subtitles

“My mother was prostituted. My grandmother and my aunts were prostituted. My father was a consumer of prostitution and also a pimp. I don’t know where this endless chain of prostitution that runs throughout my whole family begins or ends”.

Alika Kinan was 15 years old when her parents, locked in a violent and abusive relationship, finally separated for good. She was left alone to look after her nine year old sister in her home city of Córdoba in central Argentina. “We had no food in the house. I remember those long days with my little sister, living on potatoes and drinking mate. Being left to care for my sister alone and with no prospects was like the end of the line for me”.

Struggling to make ends meet, she eventually asked her father for help, who told her “you know what you have to do...” That is how, at the age of 17, Alika entered the world of prostitution, servicing men in the “Aries” brothel in Córdoba where she had to hand over 60 percent of her earnings to the pimps. In 1996, at the age of 20, she was offered a flight to Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world. In the documentary Cuerpo a Cuerpo (which can be viewed with English subtitles here) Alika describes how she ended up leaving behind her home city. “This girl, a friend of mine, proposed that we go down south to work. There was a woman who’d pay for the flight. She said that we could make good money there. We didn’t have many other options”.

Ushuaia is a coastal city with an important port and Naval base, creating a high demand for prostitution from the sailors and fishermen who pass through the city in their thousands. Over time the city grew around these men, who came from all over the world. “They demanded women to satisfy all their needs” explains Alika. “And when I say ‘needs’, I’m not just talking about sexual needs. They also needed women to live with, to cook for them and to bear their children. And the women were their property. They were brought in by the men, owned by the men and there to serve the men. That’s what this city was built on”.

Ushuaia provided a location for scores of brothels, under the guise of ‘whiskey bars’ and ‘cabaret clubs’, which operated with the complicity of the local government and police force. As Alika explains, “the Russian and North American ships that land at the port are often staffed by men from the Philippines because they’re cheap to employ. What’s more, they get paid in dollars, which means huge profits for the pimps in Ushuaia”. The clubs open at 8pm, when it is still broad daylight in the city, and service the men all through the night until the following morning. “It has direct access from the port!”, exclaims Alika. “They used to get off the boats with their wages and come straight up to the clubs in the city centre. Brothels are illegal in Argentina, but nobody controls their operation. Most of the women in the clubs are under the influence of drugs, and they don’t even realise they’ve been trafficked”.

Alika in Ushuaia - the city at the end of the world

Alika had arrived in the city that is often referred to as ‘the end of the world’ ostensibly of her of own free will, although today she understands that trafficking does not always entail straightforward kidnapping. At the age of 20 she had already spent three years in the sex industry, but she was unprepared for the brutal culture of exploitation that had developed in Ushuaia’s whiskey bars and cabaret clubs. On arrival, Alika recalls how her exploiters “acted like they were very friendly people. They took me to the club and I remember walking down a very long corridor filled with barred windows and doors. One of the doors opened and a woman welcomed me inside. When I walked in there were lots of girls in bathrobes who all went to their posts because they thought a client was coming in. They took me into an office and told me in basic terms how the system worked. They didn’t really tell me very much. They took for granted things that I had never imagined before”.

In those years the prostitution industry in Ushuaia operated in open collaboration with the local authorities. As part of her initiation she was taken to the local police station to open up a file and check that she didn’t have any previous convictions. The policeman who took her details and fingerprints was himself a regular client at the ‘Sheik’, the first of many brothels where Alika was to be exploited. Next, she was issued an official health booklet and had to agree to monthly medical checkups. “They gave you a HIV blood test and a vaginal swab once a month” recalls Alika. “Why did they do that? Well, I know why they did it. They wanted to keep the women healthy so we wouldn’t get the so-called ‘clients’ sick. To be a legal prostitute, I mean, a ‘regulated’ prostitute, that was how it worked”.

Soon after her arrival, her pimps took her to the local casino “to teach me what to do and show me off to the men who’d be going to spend their wages at the whiskey bar later that night. If you behaved badly they passed you on from one brothel to another, where the conditions were worse. It was a matter of life or death”. 

The 'Sheik' nightclub in Ushuaia

The conditions in the brothels were terrible; small, filthy rooms where the women slept, ate and serviced an endless stream of men from 11pm until 6am every day. They were expected to clean up the blood and semen that stained the walls themselves. Pedro Montoya, the owner of the ‘Sheik’ club, kept 50% of the women’s earnings and made them pay for their own food, clothing, travel expenses, make-up and condoms. Their identification documents and passports were confiscated and they were kept in debt bondage which made escape impossible. They were fined 500 pesos by the pimps for turning up late, failing to clean the rooms, having a day off or daring to refuse a client. The women had to continue attending to men even when they had their period by inserting a sponge in their vaginas; a method which Alika’s pimp had apparently discovered on the internet.

“At night the pimps thumped their fists on the bar and demanded more money” recalls Alika. “They’d say, ‘girl, you’re here to make me money. You’re not here to sleep, you’re not here to look beautiful, you’re not a famous star. You’re nothing’”.

The walls surrounding the brothels were lined with barbed wire. “It was a prison. They kept you isolated. The madam said that we couldn’t have any contact with anyone outside the brothel. We weren’t allowed to have friends. They controlled everything...there were posters everywhere inside that told you what time you had to get out of bed. You couldn’t get up before four in the afternoon. You weren’t allowed to wake up any earlier”.

One night Alika met a Spaniard named Miguel Pascual in a bar named “Black & White”, which has also been investigated by police for suspected prostitution. Pascual was a client who, without her knowledge, began to pay Alika’s pimps extra so he could spend more time with her. He told her he had fallen in love with her. They had children together and eventually he took Alika to live with him in Spain, but the relationship was marked by violence and abuse. “I found myself in a home where violence was completely normalised”, says Alika. “Later he started to beat me and our oldest daughter, who was 8 years old at the time. I decided to escape and I returned to my traffickers in Ushuaia, who of course received me with open arms”.

As a result of what she describes as ‘constant violence’, Alika was left with scars on her face, several missing teeth and still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The women prostituted in the brothels of Ushuaia typically suffer venereal diseases, lesions, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, regular physical violence and many become addicted to the alcohol and drugs which they consume in order to withstand the abuse.

There were so many insults. Something was broken inside me.

In October 2012 Alika was rescued from the brothel by police, along with seven other women, following an investigation conducted by the anti-trafficking organisation Protex. Looking back, she calls the day of her rescue “the first step in our becoming people with rights. Women with rights. It was the first step towards freedom”. But at first she couldn’t recognise herself as a victim. When social services offered her a place in a refuge for trafficking victims for herself and her daughters, Alika was initially reluctant. “They wanted us to share a house with five other women from the Dominican Republic. They locked us in at 10pm and came to let us out the following morning. It was crazy! I was angry and I even felt sorry for my pimp Pedro. I shouted ‘why have you locked him up?’ I didn’t understand the nature of the crime and I refused to consider myself a victim of human trafficking. I saw myself as a strong woman who had arrived there because she had no other option, which is an idea promoted by human traffickers, because they make you believe that once you enter the network”, she affirmed.

The social worker initially assigned to the case concluded in her report that Alika was not a trafficking victim because she had acted of her own free will. However, once liberated from exploitation she began to process and reflect upon what had happened to her. “When I realised I was repeating the history of other women in my family I saw myself as a victim. From then on I began to rebuild myself. I had internalized my pimp’s speech. It took many years of therapy and the help of my lawyer and a feminist organisation who always supported me and taught me to have a gender perspective. It was a difficult process because you just don’t believe what has happened to you and I had to look after a family alone. I had to get rid of my preconceptions, and accept that there is no pride in being a prostitute. The fact that I was receiving money in exchange for sex didn’t mean that they were consensual relations. They were rapes, and there was a permanent risk. I have four young daughters and a one year old baby. I always tell my girls to maintain control over their own bodies, to love and care for themselves. I lived in a situation of violence for many years where I was told constantly by the buyers and pimps that I was a dirty whore, that I was worth nothing. There were so many insults. Something was broken inside me that was difficult to repair. I don’t want the same thing to happen to them”.

"The day of my rescue was the first step towards freedom"

Alika’s courageous decision to take her former captors and the municipal council of Ushuaia to court was unprecedented. Following four years of anxious expectation, the trial began in November 2016 amid an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Brothel owner Pedro Montoya, his wife Ivana Garcia and Lucy Alberca Campos, the brothel’s madam, were all accused of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The case revealed many uncomfortable truths about the government’s complicity in the sex trade; the state allowed the existence of the brothels, official records were kept on the prostituted women and commercial permits were granted by the authorities.

In the months leading up to the trial Alika received numerous threats and was physically attacked several times. She was approached and intimidated in the streets and attacked on social media sites by those who feared being named in court. Alika recalls being physically assaulted while she out was out shopping with her family. “It was a female pimp, who I recognised, and her daughter. They jumped on me in the supermarket. I was with my baby in the pram and two of my daughters who didn’t understand what was happening. She came running up, spat on me and knocked me over. It was like that day after day. The threats came from Facebook, anonymous phone calls, attacks from strangers in the street... it even happened when I was out on a feminist women’s march”.

Perhaps the nadir in the campaign of intimidation against Alika came when her former husband Miguel Pascual became involved. He had stopped making maintenance payments to Alika when he found out that she had returned to Ushuaia. He circulated a video via social media sites of what he claimed to be his own daughter being prostituted in an attempt to discredit Alika and have her children taken away from her. The video was later proven to be a fake. A week before the trial started he attempted to destroy her reputation by posting a series of what Alika calls “very subtle, well prepared and organised” attacks on Facebook from his home in Scotland. Pascual even testified against his former wife at the trial via videoconference, claiming that she was exercising prostitution of her own free will. At one point he even appeared on a radio programme and openly admitted that he had once “reduced her to nothing” during an argument, and described how he had “twisted her arm, pulled her hair, stuck my knee in her back and made her kneel until she said sorry”. When Alika heard it she “thought about how crazy it was that this guy thought he could say something like that in public. Just think about the level of impunity, sexism and misogyny... the people don’t see it, they don’t recognise the violence, even when they are proudly talking about it on the radio”. She realised that she was facing an orchestrated attempt to intimidate her and prevent her from speaking out. “They tried to destroy my nerve before the trial, so that I couldn’t be spontaneous and think straight, so that I couldn’t sustain the five hours of testimonial in court.”

Despite the dirty tactics employed against her by those in support of the sex trade, Alika went ahead with her testimonial and received strong support from a large section of the Argentinian public, lead by several feminist collectives and anti-trafficking organisations such as Ni Una Menos, AMADH and RATT. An internet campaign was launched using the hashtag #AlikaNoEstaSola (‘Alika is not alone’) and there were huge protests in Buenos Aires and in the street outside the court in Tierra del Fuego as the trial began.

In her epic five hour testimonial, Alika described how her captors had sold her the “false image of a family that I had never had... they instilled habits of cleanliness, order and punctuality in me so that I would be shaped for the brothel’s clients , so that I would continue to be productive, so that I wouldn’t open my eyes and see what was really happening.”

Alika embraces a supporter after the historic verdict

In an historic verdict, Pedro Montoya received a 7 year prison sentence and a $70,000 fine. His wife Ivana Garcia and Lucy Alberca Campos both received 3 year prison sentences. For the first time in history the state was also found guilty; the municipal council of Ushuaia was ordered to pay Alika $780,000 in damages for having facilitated the crime of trafficking. It is now hoped that the judgement will set a precedent and encourage more women to come forward. On hearing the judge’s verdict, Kinan embraced members of the feminist organisations who supported her and declared, “now we’re going after the pimps all over the country.”

Today Alika lives in Sierra Leone with her family. She is a feminist activist and the founder of the Sappa Kippa institute, an NGO which fights for women’s rights in Ushuaia. She spreads the abolitionist message wherever she goes and is an advocate of the ‘Nordic model’, a law which would criminalise sex buyers, pimps and traffickers and decriminalise prostituted women. She believes that eliminating economic inequality would bring an end to the exploitative sex trade. “No woman with a decent job, housing and access to health care would ever give up that stability to be with someone who defiles her body”.

She strongly opposes ‘sex worker’ organisations who argue that prostitution is just a job like any other because she believes that violence is an inherent part of the industry. “You can’t unionize what is essentially a criminal activity” she insists. “Prostitution is the accumulation of every type of violence that can be committed against a person: economic, physical, psychological, verbal. Prostitutes are required to withstand this constant violence.”

"I don't want the same thing to happen to my daughters"

Alika campaigns against the so-called ‘sex worker unions’ such as AMMAR (The Argentine Prostitutes’ Association) who, in her view, only serve the needs of pimps and traffickers. “They talk about ‘autonomous prostitution’, that the women want to do it, that they do it voluntarily. But in prostitution and trafficking there is a network of pimps; one who buys the plane tickets, another that meets the girls at the airport, one who runs the brothel...at what point do the women have any control? How is this an autonomous process?” she asks in disbelief.

She also questions the problematic concept of ‘consent’, which she argues is often deliberately confused with the idea of ‘free choice’. “I was reduced to meat to be consumed” she says. “I said that I had given my consent to be prostituted, and it’s true, but it wasn’t a ‘choice’ because a choice is when you are given options, which I never had.” As for the idea that prostitution is somehow ‘transgressive’ or ‘liberating’, Alika is now convinced that “it reduces human sexuality to dominance and submission, abuse and brutality. It’s one thing to enjoy sex, but what is often considered ‘consensual’ sex actually includes prostitution, rape and many more types of abuse”.

Alika expands on this point in the documentary Cuerpo a cuerpo, when she describes her life in Ushuaia’s brothels. “Sometimes you felt a sensation of power, which is how a lot of the women feel. They’re being exploited, but at the same time they feel powerful because they think they maintain control over the men. But they don’t really have any control. The men are very sure about what they’re doing. From the moment they enter the brothel they know exactly what they want, because they come in looking for a particular thing. That’s why, for the reality not to seem so terrible, or so painful, or so humiliating, or so shameful, we make ourselves believe that we have power over the men. But once you’re between four walls and they grab you from behind, by the hair, and they penetrate you, painfully...you’ve lost that power. And you lose, not only your rights, but all form of autonomy over your body.”

Alika - "Now we're going after all the pimps all over the country"

Original article and translations by Ben Riddick

English subtitles for the short film about Alika Kinan produced by Ben Riddick in collaboration with ‘Traductoras Para La Abolición De La Prostitución’, a collective of English to Spanish translators whose fantastic website can be found here

A list of sources for the article is posted in the comments box below.