Spain's sex trade is tale of two halves as PM tries to make prostitution illegal

Apricots Brothel in Barcelona rents mirrored rooms to prostitutes by the hour or the day.

The door on a well-to-do street in central Barcelona looks much like any other. The large wooden frame and wrought iron panels discreetly blending in with the other apartments.

But behind the door is a brothel - part of Spain’s booming sex industry. What they do there is under threat as the country’s socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez tries to make prostitution illegal.

Apricots has all the features of a modern workplace: a chill-out area for staff; Health and Safety notices politely reminding patrons how to behave. A cleaner is mopping the tiled corridor and the receptionist is at her desk when we arrive mid-morning before business starts. We are greeted by Nuria Galagó, the brothel’s PR manager.

She shows us the mirrored en-suite rooms they rent to prostitutes by the hour or the day, where they can receive clients.

We are introduced to Valkyria, an attractive blonde woman dressed in a long summer dress. She is 41 and moved to Spain from Eastern Europe with her husband. But when their marriage broke down, she struggled to find work.

Prostitution has surged in Spain since it was decriminalised in 1995.

She says she started working as a prostitute five months ago because it offered a much better wage than any other job.

She is her own boss, and it gives her free time to pursue other interests. For her, it seems prostitution is a lifestyle choice, providing a service and harming no one. She even claims to be frustrated it isn’t recognised as employment so she can pay tax on her earnings.

But this is only one side of prostitution in Spain. Since it was decriminalised in 1995, the country has seen a surge in the trafficking of women forced to sell sex.

In Madrid, we visit APRAMP, a charity that helps hundreds of prostitutes escape the control of pimps or traffickers. ‘Marcella’ was studying for a law degree in Brazil when her family suffered a sudden loss of income.

But the housekeeping job she took in Spain to save for the rest of her college fees didn’t exist. She was forced into prostitution by the traffickers who had tricked her. They used photos and videos of her family to threaten and control her - making her take cocaine, moving her to new brothels or apartments every few weeks.

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Now she works for APRAMP rescuing other women trapped in prostitution. Every time the phone rings, she says its someone in need of help.

Young women like ‘Sarah’ who was trafficked from Nigeria at the age of 15, on the pretence she was going to work as an au pair. She is now building a new life training as a seamstress.

As we leave, on the same street where the charity is based, there are now at least a dozen prostitutes touting for business in broad daylight.

If they do want help to get out of the industry, it is right here on their doorstep. But it's not clear who is controlling their decisions, and whether they want to find a way out.

Or what will happen to them if prostitution is made illegal.

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