Marta Ramoneda for The New York Times
A prostitute waits for customers on a road in La Jonquera, on the border with France and Spain on December 11, 2011. More Photos »
By SUZANNE DALEY
Published: April 6, 2012
LA JONQUERA, Spain — She had expected a job in a hotel. But when Valentina arrived here two months ago from Romania, the man who helped her get here — a man she had considered her boyfriend — made it clear that the job was on the side of the road.
The New York Times
La Jonquera attracts young men from France seeking sex. More Photos »
He threatened to beat her and to kill her children if she did not comply. And so she stood near a roundabout recently, her hair in a greasy ponytail, charging $40 for intercourse, $27 for oral sex.
“For me, life is finished,” she said later that evening, tears running down her face. “I will never forget that I have done this.”
La Jonquera used to be a quiet border town where truckers rested and the French came looking for a deal on hand-painted pottery and leather goods. But these days, prostitution is big business here, as it is elsewhere in Spain, where it is essentially legal.
While the rest of Spain’s economy may be struggling, experts say that prostitution — almost all of it involving the ruthless trafficking of foreign women — is booming, exploding into public view in small towns and big cities. The police recently rescued a 19-year-old Romanian woman from traffickers who had tattooed on her wrist a bar code and the amount she still owed them: more than $2,500.
In the past, most customers were middle-aged men. But the boom here, experts say, is powered in large part by the desires of young men — many of them traveling in packs for the weekend — taking advantage of Europe’s cheap and nearly seamless travel.
“The young used to go to discos,” said Francina Vila i Valls, Barcelona’s councilor for women and civil rights. “But now they go to brothels. It’s just another form of entertainment to them.”
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.
But police officials and advocates say that whatever the number of victims, it is growing. Thousands of women are forced to work — often for even lower pay now, because of the economic downturn — everywhere from fancy clubs and private apartments to industrial complexes and lonely country roads.
Europe woke up to the problem of trafficked women in the 1990s, as young women from the former Soviet Union began to arrive in large numbers, and it has spent much of the last decade developing legal frameworks to address the issue. But, some advocates say, this decade will test Europe’s commitment to enforcing its new laws.
“The structures, by and large, are in place,” said Luis CdeBaca, the ambassador who leads the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. “Now it’s time to take them out for a drive.”
Fueling the boom in the sex industry in Spain are many factors, experts say, including porous borders in many parts of the world and lax laws. Until 2010, Spain did not even have a law that distinguished trafficking from illegal immigration. And advocates say arrests of traffickers and services for trafficked women remain few. The State Department’s report on trafficking said that according to preliminary information, the Spanish government prosecuted 202 trafficking suspects and convicted 80 in 2010.
More important, some advocates say, is the growing demand for sex services from younger tourists. Of course, there is a local market. One study cited by a 2009 United Nations report said that 39 percent of Spanish men admitted having visited a prostitute at least once. It is widely accepted here for business meetings to end in dinner and a visit to a brothel.
But more recently, experts say, Spain has also become a go-to destination for sex services.
In La Jonquera, tucked behind an all-night gas station, is the newly opened Club Paradise, which, with 101 rooms, is one of the largest brothels in Europe. It caters in large part to young men from France, where many aspects of prostitution are illegal, and perhaps more to the point, buying sex is more expensive.
Rachel Chaundler and Stefania Rousselle contributed reporting
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