What I learned in a Spanish brothel
Prostitutes may give off a “good vibe” in their place of work, but don’t be fooled: the harsh reality is anything but friendly, as a visit to a Madrid brothel made abundantly clear.
By Sonia Alegre
“My mother brought me my first client when I was 14. Since then, I’ve had an average of three to five men per night. I’m 25 now. I think I am probably the biggest whore in this club”, says Diana (her “professional” name), one of the 120 prostitutes who work at Vive, one of the best-known brothels in Madrid.
Vive is located in the Bravo Murillo district, next to Estrecho metro station. Every night it opens its doors to clients who, as Manuel, a regular for the past three years, puts it, are “just looking for some drinks and some fun if the night really warms up.” He adds: “I don’t sleep with the girls every night I come, only when I really feel like it. Most of the time, I just come for drinks with friends after work”. According to Manuel, and contrary to what most people believe about prostitution, “these girls are here voluntarily, no one forces them to do this, they enjoy it and they make a lot of money. They really give off a good vibe.”
Vive is so big that it is really hard to describe its exact dimensions. There are three main round bars to order drinks at, each at least 20 metres long, and a separate place for girls to strip and dance. Business is good: each girl has to pay €60 a night just to access the place; that means that when Vive opens its doors, there are already €7,200 in cash at the counter. On top, drinks, when with a “girl” are €40, €20 for the “girl”, €20 for Vive. Not a bad business at all, especially if you take into account that the “girls” have to pay the €60 every night just to make sure their space is reserved. So if one day they are sick, they still have to pay, as they also do if they have their period or if one day they don’t get a client. And if they dance, they have to pay €100 to Vive; it’s considered “marketing”. Clearly there is a big demand to have a space reserved in Vive (if a girl disappears for two days, she’s suspected of having a fixed client, so when they have their period, they still “choose” to work…). But it’s equally clear that this resembles exploitation.
But apart from the 100 metres of bar, under it there are 30 en suite rooms where the “services” are performed. The door that leads to the rooms opens and some prostitutes come out. “See those girls?” asks Manuel, “those are already used, I want the fresh ones.” But apparently, you can only get a “fresh girl” if you come at 5pm, when Vive opens its doors. At 11pm on a Tuesday in November, the place is booming. There are 120 “girls”, provocatively dressed, who in catwalk style come up to every man in the bar to say hi and introduce themselves. Most of them are from Colombia, Paraguay, Brazil and Romania. None are Spanish. Most of them have fake breasts and fake backsides. All have fathers, brothers, cousins, or boyfriends.
They charge €220 for their services, €200 for them, €20 for Vive. “Samantha”, a Romanian based in Reading, in the UK, says she comes to Vive every three or four months, just for a week or so, to make enough cash to have “a proper living”. “I have my normal life back in Reading. Obviously, nobody knows that I do this but the money is really good. Of course I do not like it, how could anyone? But I try to enjoy it as much as possible, otherwise I couldn’t put up with it.”
You might think it is frivolous of Samantha to sell her body for a more comfortable life. But Samantha left Romania escaping a husband who would rape her and beat her up every day and she found herself thinking one day: “if somebody is going to screw me again without my consent, at least I am going to make some money out of it.” For “Sabrina”, with four children back in Brazil, no job and, a father that abused her when she was a child, the option was clear: “I am sending back to Brazil more than €10,000 every month. I am almost done with paying for my nice house back there and I want to buy my children all the things I couldn’t have and give them a proper education that I couldn’t have. I think in two years I will be able to quit this and move back and have a normal life. It is just a job.”
While I am talking with the girls, Manuel has already had two drinks with Katia, a modestly dressed Romanian brunette. “See my tits; they are the only ones that are real in this club. I am a real woman, not a cheap shit like the Chileans or the Brazilians,” she tells him. Katia is getting nervous because she has already had two drinks with Manuel (€40 in one hour), but Manuel doesn’t seem ready to go to the rooms. She starts dancing, violently shaking her backside around Manuel. “Come on, let’s go, what are you waiting for!” But Manuel isn’t up for it. She leaves. Understandably, time is gold for her.
While I am shocked by the whole scene, Manuel looks at me and says: “I must admit, seen from the other side, this is pretty sordid.” I ask him: if you were a girl, would you choose that option? “No”. Deafening silence.
These girls who “voluntarily” sell their bodies at Vive every night seem to do so without anyone putting a gun to their head. Pablo, another regular of Vive (three times per month for the past three years), explains: “These girls are very proud of what they do. They have tricks to give you pleasure very fast, if they don’t like you, and tricks to make you talk so much that you will not want to have sex with them. They choose who they give themselves to.”
Not so much “choice” after all
But sometimes it seems they also have to “choose” to take drugs if the client requests it. “When they want us to take drugs, there is no escape. They check that we sniff it but we know that there is more money to be made (by taking them),” says Diana, who points out that clients that get high are more likely to spend more.
Looking at the crowd I really wonder if they choose who they give themselves to. The only good-looking guy in Vive is Pablo, no wonder he thinks like that. But the amount of fat, greasy, unattractive looking men outnumbers him clearly (there are about 250 men in the club). How voluntary can prostitution be when you’ve been raped and beaten by your father or your husband? How voluntary can prostitution be when it’s the only choice you have to make a living? Just because it’s industrialised and there is no pimp, no beatings or mafia, is it voluntary? The excuses that men come up with to justify it are heard over and over in our country: that it is the oldest profession in the world; that men need more sex than women and that women don’t like sex that much; that these girls make a lot of money.
My conclusion is that the men in this establishment do not want to see either the prostitutes or themselves as human beings. If they did, they wouldn’t be using the services of women whose only option is, once all their dignity has been robbed, to make a living out of selling their bodies. In a recent survey, 39 percent of men admitted to having visited prostitutes. But judging by what I saw in Vive and the naturalness with which brothels seem to be regarded, I would say many, many more men than that pay for sex. They could be your father, brother, cousin, or boyfriend…
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