bad sex home
Traditionally they’re called púti clubs (from puta, Castilian for prostitute) though the less pejorative term is clubs de alterne (singles clubs). They are places where men go to pay exorbitant amounts for drinks and have the option of contracting a prostitute for her services in a back room of the club, or elsewhere nearby. For over 100 years these clubs have coexisted—for the most part discreetly—with the rest of the population; so much so that they are generally overlooked by citizens in the same disinterested way that a philatelist’s or dollhouse store is ignored. However, the Ajuntament is not overlooking them. And if the projections of a club owners’ association, la Associació d’Empreses de Clubs d’Altern (ACECA), are correct, this year will see the majority of these clubs closing down in Barcelona.
In September 2007, the Supreme Court of Catalunya upheld provisions of a law passed in 2004. La Ordenanza de Locales de Publica Concurrencia (The Public Attendance Venues Ordinance), gave clubs de alterne nearly four years to fulfill certain conditions in order to renew their licences by the first day of 2008. Some of these conditions are concerned with hygiene and noise-level. Others are related to geography: they may not be located within a hundred metres of each other, of educational or health centres, or governmental organisations. And they can’t exist in buildings where people live. For many clubs, these are impossible requirements to fulfill, and so they face closure.
ACECA, who lost the dispute against the ordinance in the Supreme Court, sees this as an all-out assault on the sector, though the Ajunatment asserts that it is merely trying to regulate the conditions in the clubs. “We’re not looking to apply any kind of discrimination,” Francesc Santiago, a spokesperson for the Ajuntament, told Metropolitan. “This Ajuntament wants only to introduce regulatory clauses regarding the licenses of these kinds of places. If they can’t make the changes, they can’t have a license. This provides a mark of security also for them. The ordinances are general and they apply to other businesses as well.”
While this may be true for some of the regulations, such as noise pollution and providing security guards where more than 50 people are gathered, it’s not true for the conditions stated above, and Gemma Mañosa, the Secretary Director of ACECA, argued that they are entirely unfair. “The people we represent spent a lot of money to do what they possibly could. We did what they asked us to do, isolating the sound, putting in air-conditioning, bidets. But some things we can’t do. We can’t change the width of the street, for example.”
Mañosa sees this as an issue of political correctness. In Spain, there is no law against prostitution. Yet, according to her, the Socialists consider it an undignified profession and are trying to blindside it by other means. In her view, this will merely push prostitution out onto the streets and into the hands of mafias.
Prostitution is the second largest industry in the world—behind weapons and before drugs, according to the Report of the Committee on Prostitution in Our Country (Madrid, 2007). This same report estimates that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 prostitutes working in the EU, two-thirds of them from Eastern Europe.
Clarise Velocci, of Genera, an NGO that works to defend women’s rights—specifically women who work as prostitutes—disputed trying to find any exact statistics. “The nature of the business makes it hard to find real numbers. Suffice it to say that there are a lot.”
Sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows, so to speak. “The world of prostitution isn’t that easy,” said Velocci. “We have another point of view because our role is distinct. ACECA is representing the owners of the businesses, we represent the workers. But often in the public forum, different interests can coincide, despite having different arguments.
“We also believe that effectively this is an attempt to ‘deregulate’ a job sector. Evidently, nobody has the political intention to give true rights to women who dedicate themselves to prostitution, and so this whole debate is about imposing a limitation of space. In this sense, we believe that the issue has to be considered very carefully, because we are limiting a collective that has no labour rights. And, as such, in one way their citizenship will be undermined. In the case of regulating these public spaces, such an ordinance effectively penalises and stigmatises women who work as prostitutes.
“Any effort to improve the working conditions of women is perfectly acceptable. However, one can’t attempt –from a moral point of view—to limit the number of spaces that have always coexisted very well with the city, that have existed for years as places where women have worked in relatively good conditions, especially considering that it’s a collective that has no rights.”
Margarita Carreras is a woman who has collaborated closely with Genera. By day she works as a cleaner, by night as a prostitute. Short and humble in appearance, she at first seemed rather unimposing. But when speaking about the government and the mentality of the Spanish public, she grew vehement. In a conversation with Metropolitan in December, at a café near the University of Barcelona where a debate on prostitutes’ rights was taking place, Carreras expressed fury at the government because it has mandated these regulations without consulting the women who actually work in the clubs.
“The main problem I have is with the Ajuntament. The Ajuntament can regulate public spaces, but we’re not talking about public spaces. We’re talking about a business that doesn’t recognise the workers. If you have waiters or cooks, you have to pay social security, you have to give them contracts and you have to maintain them in good working conditions. They regulate the spaces without recognising that in Spain it’s illegal to have a business without regulating the workers in the establishment. Why don’t they worry about the people who work inside first? And then about these venues in relation to the public?”
Carreras has worked as a prostitute for 20 years, the first 10 of which were in clubs de alterne. But she chose to work on the street when things began to change. “Before, it was very different. When I worked these clubs, there was a different dynamic between the owners, the workers and the clients. Then, it wasn’t, ‘I give the orders and you obey’, like it is these days. Now they keep women’s passports, they keep women locked up without liberty to go out. Back then, this kind of slavery was inconceivable.”
And this is exactly where the interests converge for ACECA and organisations like Genera, which are looking out for the rights and interests of women who work as prostitutes. “We’re fighting to regulate prostitution,” according to Mañosa. “Closing these venues will mean more secret apartments, more mafias, more prostitutes in the street, more crime in the streets, more drugs. We’re trying to make [the Ajuntament] see that this will create a society with less protection for women.”
First published March 2008.