Prostitution in Catalonia: Girona’s Ladies of the Plastic Chairs


Prostitution in Girona, Catalonia

Prostitution in Girona, Catalonia

By Regina Winkle-Bryan

Last week we headed north into Girona and more specifically, Empordà. These regions of Catalonia are known for the footprints left behind by Big Dogs such as Dalí and Picasso. In fact, there are three Dalí museums in Empordà. Girona offers fertile fields, miles of vineyards, the rugged shores of the Costa Brava and medieval villages with the Pyrenees as a dramatic backdrop for it all. Among all this beauty are the putas, or prostitutes, or “ladies of the night”, except it’s not night, it’s 10:00 a.m.

We’re driving through really the middle of nowhere, and there by the side of a country lane is a woman in fishnets, high-heels, a black mini skirt and a halter top. She sits in a white plastic chair, maybe sipping a Red Bull. A couple miles down the same road we see another one, and another, and another. On my last trip north to Girona we counted about 25 women working the back-roads with their plastic chairs and occasionally a sun umbrella.

How the hell do they get out to the middle of rural Catalonia? There aren’t buses out there, and these women are in dire straights, so I doubt they have cars. I would guess that the man, or pimp behind all this exploitation leaves them out there every day, and then picks them up later on. How many customers can these women have along Bob’s Lane? Not too many probably, but clearly enough to keep coming back. These are all good questions, and I don’t have the answers, although I think the most important question is: Why is this happening?

I’ve never seen so much prostitution in my life as I have on the country roads of Girona (not just on this trip, but on every trip north I’ve made since 2008), and the road leading into Castelldefels. Numerous women in dangerous, solitary places, alone, selling themselves. Usually they are Latina or Eastern Europeans, probably immigrants, which makes the whole thing even worse in my opinion.

On this last trip north it especially struck me how blind we can collectively decide to be as a society. Girona and Empordà are high-end hot spots for tourism in Catalonia and many families from Barcelona have second homes there. How many Catalan families drive past these putas every weekend on their way to their beach house? Why hasn’t anyone complained? Where are the strong feminist women of Catalonia, and why aren’t they raising hell about this and shutting it down?

I find these women in their thigh-high boots and see-through tops standing in the mud in a field deeply troubling on many levels. They represent the economic crisis in Spain, desperation, exploitation, and also those who take advantage of them, and the many others, most of us, who turn a blind eye.

I for one, when in the Girona countryside, would like to see more poppies and pajaros than putas.

Photo by alessandro isnotaurelio

9 Responses

  1. Kirsten Carpentier says:

    GREAT post, Regina!! Very haunting. I look forward to more information as you find it about who these women are and why they are sitting in their plastic chairs on rural country roads.

  2. Sue says:

    I loved you to find an answer, I live in this area of rural Catalunya and cannot understand why the Spanish/Catalan women I know see no reason to complain.

  3. If these towns are located close to the France-Spain border, then this recent story in the NYTimes might shed some light on your questions:

    Also, technically the equivalent Spanish word for prostitute is “prostituta” (the word one might hear in a news story about it), not “puta” which means “whore” (and is thus a vulgar term used informally). Maybe it seems absurd to be PC about what you call these women, but somehow calling them “puta” seems unnecessarily offensive whatever your opinion is about what they do.

    Personally, I don’t think the question is why the local women tolerate it (why put that responsibility or blame on them), but why the men and governments do.

  4. admin says:

    Hi Zach,

    Thanks for sharing that news story. “There is little reliable data on the subject. The State Department’s 2010 report on trafficking said that 200,000 to 400,000 women worked in prostitution in Spain. The report said that 90 percent were trafficked.” It’s horrifying.

    I know what the word ‘puta’ means, and I’ve used it because I think that’s how many refer to these women – you never hear a bad joke or a group of dudes say ‘prostituta’, you hear ‘puta’ – and maybe that says something about how these women (and perhaps women in general) are viewed by some men.

    I say women should do something because this is a women’s rights issue. In the past, it has not been men who have changed things for women, but women putting pressure on men in high places to do so, ASAP. After all, what wife wants her husband in a brothel? What mother wouldn’t understand the pressure to save one’s children (in the many cases when the women’s families are in danger if she does not work)? And how many women have not been sexually harassed in some way? Plus, why would the customers close the shop? While I wish both men and women would take on this issue, I see it as something that women are going to have to attack first – but maybe I will be wrong about this.

    In any case, it’s really upsetting, and this NY Times article paints a picture worse than I had last read.


  5. John Bentley says:

    Actually, people do complain about this all the time, but it’s very difficult to stop it completely.

    The issue about immigrants being brought to Spain by mafia groups, often against their will or on the promise of being able to find legitimate work, is extremely disturbing. It goes on not only on country lanes but also in cities, on a much wider scale.

    For these gangs of pimps (or “chulos” as they are colloquially called) to be brought down relies on people closely involved reporting them to the authorities. There was an interesting case in Barcelona, a couple of years ago, of a man who was himself a client of a Russian prostitute who he visited several times. On one occasion he asked her about her own background, and she told him how she’d been taken from Russia on the promise of a modelling career. When she arrived in Spain she was told she would have to work as a prostitute to repay the standard “fee” to the gang (apparently up to ten thousand Euros).

    On this occasion the story had a happy ending, or as happy as they get in these circumstances – the client was so shocked when he heard all the gory details that he actually went to the police station and reported her pimp, and the whole gang was brought down. He must have been a pretty naive sort of man if you ask me – did he really think that Russian girls queue up to become prostitutes a thousand miles away from home?

    But as you rightly say, turning a blind eye, which is doubtless what many of the clients of roadside prostitutes do, is a big part of the problem. There are obviously a lot of men out there who are prepared to overlook what is very obviously a case of extreme abuse, just to satisfy their own “needs”.

  6. admin says:

    Yes John. And you and I both know how bad Las Ramblas were in Barcelona until recently. It was good that the local newspapers caught all of it on camera and published it. But, it didn’t end the issue, just pushed it further into El Raval or wherever.

  7. Rob Innis says:

    Yes we have the girls and their plastic chairs in the Alicante campo as well – sometimes actually sitting on the roundabouts – so they get called ‘Roundabout Girls’ locally.
    Lots in the press recently about pending legislation to stop this – but I think we have heard it all before….
    Must be costing the economy millions – can’t believe they are doing the Declaracion de Renta.

  8. admin says:

    My heart goes out to these women. Many are enslaved. Complex problem.

  1. February 25, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gerald Peterson and Gladys Chavez, The Spain Scoop. The Spain Scoop said: Prostitution in Spain, a sad fact of life: […]

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