"You can get with women like the ones in the movies and they do whatever you want"
Two brothels in La Jonquera reopen after restrictions are lifted
La JonqueraA petrol station, a garage, a bazaar, a carpentry shop and one of the biggest brothels in Europe. This is what Mas Morató industrial estate in La Jonquera has to offer. It is where Club Paradise is located, known because it can accommodate more than a hundred prostitutes. It is five o'clock in the afternoon, opening time, and there is already a group of six men waiting to enter. "But how can you do this to me? I have a wife!" one of the clients replies to the question of whether he wants to give an interview. The Generalitat considers brothels "public establishments with private annexes" and, throughout the pandemic, the same measures have been applied to them as to nightclubs. This means that, in 2021, they were only allowed to open for two weeks in July, until on October 8 most restrictions were lifted. The only condition is that all customers must present a covid certificate or a negative PCR test result, as in nightclubs. On the first weekend, many customers did not have a test and had to go to a shopping centre next door to get one. To avoid losing customers, this weekend the club hired medical staff who offer tests just outside the brothel. Five security staff check documents, bags and put the men through a metal detector. "We've had a great time, there are some very beautiful women!" two regulars from Toulouse exclaim. They come out squirming and with reddish cheeks. They have paid €17 to get in – with a free drink – and about €60 for the sex service.
There is a constant stream of clients coming in and out, although there are not as many as before covid: some have got used to going to flats where, in secret, prostitution has continued; and others are afraid that, with the covid pass, their details will be registered and they will receive a call at home. Only men can enter and they are of all ages: from very young to over 60, like the two Frenchmen who get out of the car with a mischievous smile: "We are going to relax and have a good time in a suite", they explain.
"Most of them are French. There are fewer Catalans and Spaniards; they tend to come between five and seven in the evening, after leaving work and before going home. On the other hand, the French tend to come later," says one of the workers. And the parked vehicles corroborate this. They are all top-of-the-range and the vast majority of number plates are French – where the practice is banned – with the département number that gives away their origin: from the Aude to the Haute-Loire, via the Gard, Hérault and Var.
The debate on prostitution makes the governments of several European countries uncomfortable and the response they give is also diverse. In Spain this practice is legal, at least until now. Just this weekend, during the 40th congress of the PSOE, the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, has pledged to draft a comprehensive law to abolish prostitution before the next election – that is, in the next two years – and punish both customers and those who profit from this activity (pimps), as is already done in Sweden.
A drop in the number of clients and workers
On a street corner, a group of young people are hanging out: "First we go to buy drinks, tobacco and marijuana, we drink here and then we go in," say the 23-year-olds from Montpellier and Marseille. They confess that they have been hiring this type of services for many years and that, before the pandemic, they used to do this ritual once a month. Why do they like to get with prostitutes? "Because you can be with women like the ones in the movies and they do whatever you want", they admit with a laugh. They say that in Paradise it costs €55 for half an hour and €100 for an hour. And they calculate that, in the whole night, they will spend between €200 and €300. "It's like a disco: you go there, have a drink and the girls come to you. At the bar you agree on the price and the service and, if you agree, you go up to their room". Theoretically, each girl decides which sexual practices she wants to do and which ones she doesn't want to do.
This is how most brothels operate, such as the two that have reopened in the area of La Jonquera. In the case of Paradise, it offers the workers rooms for €75 a day, with three meals included and a gym and a beauty centre at their disposal, which they have to pay for separately. "Everything they earn is only for them, we only charge for renting of the room," says the owner, José Moreno, who also guarantees that the "ladies" can come and go as they please, and choose their own schedules. Just five minutes away by car is the other brothel: the Lady's Dallas Club, located on N-II in the direction of Agullana. It is an isolated building split in two: on the left is the club and on the right is a restaurant. The manager, who prefers not to give his name, specifies the conditions they offer to the workers: €60 a day per room with full board. "It's like a hotel and we don't control when they go up or down or what they do".
The two managers regret the time they have been closed, without receiving any help: "It has been very hard, we have about eighty workers between security personnel, waiters, maintenance... and they have all been on furlough for a year and a half," says Moreno. And at Lady's Dallas they add: "It was not logical, we could not open, but on the road you could see girls working. In addition, the two establishments have not received even 40% of the customers they had before covid and have encountered many problems to find workers, because most of them left or now work in flats. "Before we had between 80 and 112 girls, now just over 40," the owner of Paradise calculates.
In addition to these two clubs, there is another one in Campany that has not yet been able to open. Despite the fact that there is only one brothel in the municipality of La Jonquera – as the locals point out – the town has long since become a magnet for sexual services, despite its efforts to avoid it. Ten years ago the Town Council tried to prevent the opening of Paradise, but a Catalan High Court sentence prevented it.
From 18 to 29, she was forced to prostitute herself
One of the women who works in one of the two clubs certifies the post-pandemic decrease in activity. "I thought it would happen like in nightclubs and everyone would come all at once. But no, last weekend we had almost no work; you can see that due to covid people now have less income," says the girl, who does not want to give any personal details. She arrived a week ago, but she is not sure if the numbers will work out: "There are not many customers and with what you pay for the room, you don't end up earning much". She explains it quickly and quickly and in a low voice, from a shop on Main Street. Few prostitutes live in the city centre and you only see them when they go out for coffee or shopping. "What would you do if you couldn't even buy food for your children? Most of them are undocumented and have to earn money somehow," says a waitress who often serves them and who stresses that it is a "very, very hard" job for them.
This is the case of Ylenia, a 29-year-old girl from Romania. She has been a prostitute in La Jonquera for eleven years, since she was 18, first in a club, then with a pimp who took everything she earned and now on the road. "My mother was also a prostitute and it was her who introduced me to the world". The first time she was forced to do it; the rest, because she had no alternative. "I don't want to sell drugs or steal. I am undocumented and I can't find work. If not this, what do you want me to work for?" The cruellest thing is that two months ago she managed to get out of prostitution, thanks to a job she found in Seville, picking fruit. But it was all a hoax: after weeks of work, when she asked for her wages they told her there was no money. And she had to return to La Jonquera empty-handed. "I have nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep. At the moment I'm in a hotel". She rules out going back to a brothel: "Here it's much quicker, in 5-10 minutes I have done the job. In the club you have to stay longer and there are always problems". In addition, the establishments now force them to be vaccinated or to take a covid test, which many girls are not even considering. "I'm not going to get vaccinated, covid doesn't exist, it's all a lie," says Ylenia.
She works next to a roundabout near Paradise, from half past seven in the evening until five or six in the morning – despite the fact that in summer she extends her working hours from six in the evening to ten in the morning – and she only takes Mondays off. "During the day I don't like it because a lot of people and children pass by, and I'm embarrassed to be seen". She claims that she is not afraid and that, now, her main concern is to get her health card again because she has to go to the doctor and she doesn't know how to do it. Faced with the debate on whether prostitution should be abolished or regulated, she has a clear answer: "It has to be regulated, otherwise we can't ask for sick leave when we are sick, nor can we ask for unemployment benefits, nor is there any control. We are workers just like the rest, why don't we have the rights that you have?"