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What use are sex worker groups that give out condoms and showers, but can’t help women who want to exit prostitution? Ekis reports from Barcelona on prostitution and the campaign for legalisation

Anyone who visits Barcelona will realise that street life is like no other European city. Clowns and people dressed as Napoleon are a common sight, squats pop up in every block, theatre and music seems to grow out of the pavement. But this is about to end, if the authorities have their way. The city council is running a campaign called civismo, which targets graffiti, squatters, beggars, buskers and drunken behaviour in public places.

In the Raval area of Barcelona, a poor and bohemian part of town, people hate the civismo campaign. Many inhabitants live in buildings about to be demolished and eek out a living from recycling furniture, clothes and leftover food. Pakistani people own the restaurants and the call centres where you can make cheap calls back home. Large bits of card in the windows proclaim: Equador 10 cents a minute, Russia 15 cents, Romania 10 cents, Pakistan seven cents. Clocks in Raval are more likely to tell the time in these places than in Spain. Beautifully embellished wall murals cover the houses. Banners hang from the windows: this house is occupied. This is territory where the anarchist consciousness is still strong, like an inheritance from the civil war. Americans, Scots and Italians also live here, and they all say the same thing when asked what they are doing in Spain: they’ve come for the free way of life.

But there’s also another phenomenon that pervades life in the area: prostitution. It is here because it has been driven out of the more affluent neighbourhoods and because the inhabitants of Raval don’t have enough power or influence to be able to do anything about it. Wealthier men can come here, get it done with and leave without risking discovery. The presence of prostitution is evident on every street, always demarcated by ethnicity. The African street, the South American street, the Romanian street. Different mafias control the various neighbourhoods and hire out bits of the streets to pimps who stand guard and control the girls. Many of girls have been brought here by the mafia under the pretense of marriage, which is a way of getting under-age girls over the border without their parents’ permission. On arrival, their passports are confiscated and they’re forced to work on the streets. Regardless of where you’re from, the price is the same: €30 plus the bed. This can be bargained down to €20. The competition is tough and those who try for €40 will be rejected without mercy.

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