Spain's Government Fails in Attempt to Recriminalize, 'Abolish' Sex Work

Spain's Government Fails in Attempt to Recriminalize, 'Abolish' Sex Work

MADRID — Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) suffered a sound defeat on Tuesday in its attempt to recriminalize sex work in Spain, as a controversial bill promoted by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government failed to gain parliamentary support among the party’s ruling coalition allies.

The supposedly “feminist” law had been loudly opposed by sex workers, sex worker rights groups and the local adult industry. The traditionally left-leaning PSOE was counting on ultra-Catholic elements within the main opposition party, the right-leaning People’s Party (PP), to provide some support, but a critical mass of PP’s parliamentarians withdrew their backing from the widely reviled “Abolition of Prostitution” law.

The vote ended with 122 in favor (from PSOE, Ábalos and CC), 184 against (from PP, Sumar, ERC, Junts o PNV) and 36 abstentions, mainly from the MAGA-like “new right” Vox party.

Among parliamentarians’ criticisms were misgivings about the proposed law not offering an exit path for sex workers, and an emphasis on punishing facilitators and clients, described by the government as “pimps and johns,” following the Nordic Model propaganda playbook.

The spokesperson for the PSOE’s Equality Commission, Laura Berja, unequivocally stated last year, “We must abolish prostitution because it is incompatible with human rights.”

According to the El Mundo newspaper, Tuesday’s defeat holds “symbolic weight” and sends the abolition law “right to the trash bin.”

It is the first time, the newspaper noted, that the PSOE has failed to rally its coalition allies in support of an important piece of legislation, which may indicate a “crack” in the coalition that could further endanger its chances to remain in power.

As XBIZ reported, Spanish sex workers have been organizing for months to fight Sánchez’s campaign, which stems from SWERF-inspired policies marginalizing and criminalizing them.

Sex workers have pointed out that the original goal of the proposed Only Yes Means Yes law — in an earlier version that some self-described feminists in the PSOE mutated into a sex-work abolition bill — was to enshrine the idea of consent in Spanish law, but that its backers ended up not criminalizing nonconsensual deepfakes and deplatforming consensual sex workers instead.

“They ignore the voice of sex workers,” the activists told the Spanish press in December. “They ruin us, they make us lose autonomy and they send us into a clandestine world. How the hell is this helping reduce crime activity in our work life?”

The sex workers also accused the PSOE government of “institutional violence” against them, and are demanding an end to “harassment and criminalization” of their work.

Sex Workers Tap Libertarians, Liberals to Stop Socialist 'Feminists'

Sex workers have been meeting with libertarian members of the conservative PP, hoping to convince them to break ranks with the party's social conservatives and ultra-Catholics and preserve the legal status of sex work on personal freedom grounds.

Inés Olaizola, a penal law academic at the Universidad Pública de Navarra, has described the PSOE’s approach to sex work as “taking agency out of the consent of the women who work as prostitutes.”

By classifying all prostitution as “exploitation” — and thus erasing sex workers’ ability to consent — the proposed legislation essentially treats women “like minors,” Olaizola explained.

Barcelona-based director and producer Erika Lust warned in 2022 that the PSOE’s call for “the abolition of all forms of making a profit from the prostitution of others” directly threatened porn production.

“It would not matter whether the practice is carried out under exploitation — banned under current law — or if it is independent labor, with consent from all parties involved, following ethical production standards,” Lust said.

“What is presented as an effort to stop exploitation and violence in defense of human rights, in particular women’s rights, ends up being the main source of violence, precariousness and lack of protection for all sex workers — who are already vulnerable as it is,” the filmmaker added.

Spain-based performer and sex worker activist Maria Riot told XBIZ last year, “The Only Yes Means Yes law was promoted as a revolutionary feminist law, but it’s not just targeting full-service sex work.”

European director, performer and sex work activist Paulita Pappel, who is originally from Spain, told XBIZ that the country is currently seeing a rise in conservative influence.

“This is leading to the suppression of voices and erosion of fundamental human rights,” Pappel noted. “The pretext of protecting children online is being used to target sex workers, restricting their tools and subjecting them to discrimination. Laws requiring age verification and banning online advertising for sexual services are pushing sex workers into precarious situations. We need to oppose these measures and advocate for decriminalization. We must fight back.”

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