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Policymaking and the figure of the undocumented sex worker in Barcelona

Authors: Francheska Riley*,
Topics: Sexuality, Europe, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: sex trafficking, space and sexuality, human smuggling, Spain, policymaking, sex tourism
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As the country with the third highest rate for sex tourism in the world, Spain has become an increasingly popular destination for both foreign and domestic customers and a place of business for sex workers and pimps. However, the legal and regulated prostitution sector has been accompanied by a rise of illegal sex trafficking that has in part capitalized on the movement of people fleeing violence and economic deprivation elsewhere in Europe and beyond. The workers themselves are typically undocumented immigrants who are forced into solicitation after being smuggled into the country. Barcelona is notably the most popular destination for sex tourism in Spain, due to its accessibility along the Mediterranean Coast, popularity for other forms of tourism, and economic prosperity. This paper examines the presence of undocumented immigrants in sex tourism as an effect of illegal sex trafficking and how this has been and is being problematized by policymakers in Barcelona’s City Council in relation to the geopolitical status of the city of Barcelona. Two themes emerge from analysis of the positions being taken: first, the intersection of political-economic interests at multiple scales in the positions being taken by policymakers in Barcelona; and second, the significance of the normalization of sex work in Spain and how this has shaped in part the rise of sex trafficking within the city. In this paper, I describe these characteristics of problematization of sex trafficking in the context of Barcelona, with a focus on two organizations funded by the City Council.

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