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Sex for money… but don’t advertise it

The Spanish government is planning to ban newspaper advertisements publicizing the services of prostitutes and brothels in a seemingly short-sighted approach to an age-old problem.

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“Bulgarian girl, 21 years old, available at homes and hotels from 12am to 9pm.” “Alina, all services €30, no limits.” “We are a couple of friends willing to give you pleasure and relaxation with utmost discretion.”

Ads like these could soon vanish from Spain's newspapers.

For decades adverts for sexual services – ranging from the tactful to the graphically explicit – have filled the classified ads pages of Spanish newspapers. In a country where prostitution is neither legal nor illegal the personal ads sections of local tabloids, national dailies and magazines have long been the preferred medium for prostitutes and brothels to publicize their services. But under new proposals recently unveiled by the government, such adverts could soon be banned, forcing sex workers to find new channels to reach clients and leaving newspapers with blank advertising space.

In a new report on sex services advertising in the Spanish media, the Council of State, the government’s highest consultative body, recommends barring such adverts from newspapers on the grounds that they are degrading for women, are accessible to minors, and help entrench the idea that hiring a prostitute is not unlike purchasing any other product or service – no different from buying a used car or finding someone to repair your washing machine.

The proposals, which the Health, Social Policy and Equality Ministry has already said it will seek to implement, are the latest addition to a long-running debate about prostitution in Spain that has seen successive governments toy with the idea of banning sex work outright or legalizing and regulating it.

The current Socialist administration, which initially adopted an open mind on the issue, has more recently swung towards arguments more usually heard from the right flank of politics. Even before the Council of State’s report, the government had taken aim at sex services advertising.

“These kinds of adverts are contributing to the normalization of this activity. Therefore, they should be eliminated,” Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero declared last year.

The Council of State’s principal argument in favour of such a move is that adverts publicizing the services of prostitutes are easily accessible to minors, both as customers and service providers.

“It can encourage the practice (of prostitution) at a young age,” the report argues.

Curiously, the report targets newspaper and magazine advertising specifically, while overlooking the fact that people under the age of 18 are much more likely to be exposed to sex services adverts on the internet than in the pages of El País, El Mundo or even their local tabloid newspaper.

The focus on traditional print media has newspaper publishers up in arms. Sexual services advertising often makes up a substantial chunk of classified advertising revenue because newspapers usually charge more per word for such ads. Publishers say they already self-regulate, refusing, for example, to publish the most explicit adverts, those clearly degrading to women or from advertisers who they suspect may be involved in criminal activity. Having already suffered a drop in advertising revenue from restrictions on alcohol, tobacco and gambling advertising, newspapers are reluctant to lose another revenue stream.

An appetite for prostitution

In the view of the Association of Editors of Spanish Newspapers (AEDE), the government’s proposals are yet another assault on the freedom of the press as protected by the Spanish Constitution. After all, publishers note, prostitution is not an illegal activity… yet.

“If the powers that be consider that prostitution is a criminal or harmful activity, it would make sense for them to prohibit its practice,” an AEDE spokesperson says.

Banning prostitution, let alone banning advertising for prostitutes, is hardly likely to eradicate the industry. Advertisers will simply find other channels, primarily the internet, where classified ad websites and forums are much harder to regulate. And prostitutes, even if they are driven off the streets and brothels are closed down (should the government decide to criminalize the industry), will still be able to find clients, given that there will always be demand for sex and men willing to pay for it.

Opinion polls indicate that more than 600,000 Spanish men hire prostitutes nationwide each year, although that is a conservative estimate at best.  A study by the European Institute for Crime Prevention estimates that up to 300,000 prostitutes are currently working in Spain, a number similar to that of Germany but in a country with only half the population.





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Published: Apr 5 2011
Category: Featured, Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=2530
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