Although since 2003 the Spanish Penal Code has dictated prison sentences of several years for pandering sex services, to date there is only one person in jail for this crime, according to sociologist Silvia Pérez Freire, an associate professor at Vigo University who has written on prostitution in Galicia.
Spain, she says, is "abolitionist on paper," but it goes no further as "there is a generalized complicity between the public authorities [politicians, judges, and law enforcement agencies] and the pimps."
For the last eight years, Pérez Freire has been researching an industry that has been allowed to thrive as a result of the gray area surrounding prostitution in Spain, where it is neither legal nor illegal, merely unregulated.
The macro-clubs have around 100 women and can receive up to 500 or 600 clients a night
"The pimp is someone with power and social influence, he normally owns other companies that he uses to launder money," she says, adding that most clubs have "collaborators" in the police force.
"Almost all clubs have strong communication channels with the law enforcement agencies," she said during a recent talk in Santiago de Compostela.
A survey of prostitution clients carried out by the Center for Sociological Studies in 2009 - the most ambitious in Spain to date - showed that 32.1 percent of men have hired prostitutes, and 15 percent of them do so regularly.
Successive surveys by the Department of Feminist Studies at Vigo University have yielded different results depending on the number of respondents. In interviews with 214 men working in various industrial sectors in Vigo and Santiago, 45.3 percent said they paid for sex for physiological, social, leisure or emotional reasons, in that order.
Of these, 51 percent were between 30 and 41 years old, and 79.4 percent had a steady girlfriend or a wife. In fact, most of the brothel clients said that they selected the woman who looked the least like their regular partners, and that what they valued the most about brothels was the possibility of going to bed with exotic women, in addition to being able to choose the moment of sex. The inter-racial atmosphere and the man's dominant role fueled their sexual fantasies.
Exoticism is guaranteed in this "microcosm of fictitious flirtation," says Pérez Freire, who has visited most brothels in the Galician region. There, she explains, women work on a rotational basis, spending a few days at one club, then moving on to another. This means that between 8,000 and 10,000 women work as prostitutes in Galicia each year. In that time, any one woman can work "in up to three or four countries."
The prostitutes working in Galicia do business in private apartments, on the streets or in the 232 clubs in the region - four of which are considered 'sex supermarkets' because of the size of their 'staff' and their turnover. They are "macro-clubs with around 100 women," which can receive up to 500 or 600 clients on a weekend night, according to Pérez Freire.
The Department of Feminist Studies at Vigo University is currently conducting three lines of research on prostitution. After publishing other books on the subject, Silvia Pérez and colleague Águeda Gómez continue to explore other sectors of society, from the auto industry to universities, unions and law firms, to draw a portrait of the average prostitution client in Galicia.
There is, in fact, not one average profile, but at least four broad personality types, who share certain traits: they believe that the prostitute is there because she wants to be; they think she is lucky to be earning money in exchange for sex; they believe that men are programmed to have sex frequently and that this animal instinct cannot be placated (they feel the only programming that women have, on the other hand, is to have a child every nine months); brothels allow clients to have sex whenever they like, and with the female body type of their choice, without any commitment on their part; finally, they feel that males, unlike females, "know how to distinguish between sex and love." These comments came up time and again in interviews conducted by the researchers from Vigo University.
In this context, prostitution is a convenient kind of sex in all respects, and "one of the things that interviewees valued the most" was not having to win the woman over before sex, nor having to talk with her afterwards. In addition, the men valued the fact that that nobody questioned their performance afterwards. An additional perk to brothels is the fact that there is an unwritten rule that nobody ever talks about what goes on within their walls. "This makes them very attractive for politicians and influential people," says Pérez Freire.
The four main types of clients identified by researchers are: the homo sexualis, whose self-esteem depends on how often he has sex and with how many women; the samaritan, who seeks a relationship of sex and friendship with a woman weaker than himself and sometimes establishes sentimental relationships with them; the homo economicus, which includes the younger clients, who like to collect women and emotions; and finally, the homo politicus, who has a certain awareness that what he is doing is wrong, but who does it anyway.