Spain to ban sex adverts from national newspapers
President says ban is part of a strategy to fight people trafficking and sexual exploitation rife in Spain
The Spanish government has put itself on collision course with the national press with the announcement that it wants to ban adverts offering sexual services from their classified sections.
The explicit adverts, which fill at least a page in most of Spain’s dailies, are worth €40m (£34m) a year to the struggling newspaper industry.
President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero made the announcement during this week’s state of the nation speech, saying it was part of a strategy to fight the people trafficking and sexual exploitation that was rife in the country.
“As long as these advertisements exist, they contribute to the idea of this activity as normal,” he said.
The Association of Spanish Newspaper Editors responded by saying that the logical policy would be for the government to make prostitution illegal. “If it was illegal, then newspapers wouldn’t carry the ads,” a spokesman said.
If the ads are banned, newspapers will want to be compensated and, worryingly for Zapatero, El País, a staunch supporter of his socialist party, is the paper that earns the most from this form of advertising. With its left-liberal sensibilities and readership profile, El País is the Spanish paper that most resembles the Guardian, and yet it earns €5m a year from advertising prostitution.
Yolanda Besteiro of the Progressive Women’s Federation was scathing about what she regards as the newspaper’s hypocrisy. “No media outlet can proclaim itself a defender of human rights when it publishes this kind of advertising, which makes them directly complicit in this type of slavery,” she said.
The most openly religious daily, ABC, also runs the ads. El Publíco is the only national that does not run them as a matter of policy.
Spain is the only European country where the “quality” press carries adverts for sex. With the migration of most classified advertising to the internet, prostitution now accounts for 60% of the Spanish classified ad market.
Prostitution is big business in Spain, worth an estimated €18bn a year. There are about 200,000 sex workers in the country, nearly all of them immigrants, many of them illegal. Prostitutes are a common sight in cities, and it is impossible to go far along any main road before finding an oddly named “alternate club”, rural brothels that can house as many as 100 women.
Most of the newspaper ads are not placed by individual women but by the mafias – largely from Romania, Nigeria and various Latin American countries – who exploit them. Proof of this emerged this month when police broke up a prostitution network in Madrid after following up ads in various papers. The women were being forced to give half their earnings to pimps, and much of the rest went on paying for their lodgings, leaving them, the police said, “in a state of near slavery”.