Note: Both Ana and Charlotte are made-up names that I use to protect the interviewee’s identity.
“This recording will be deleted as soon as I’m done writing out of it. If you want a copy, I can give it to you. But no one except for me is going to hear it.”
This is the beginning of a one-hour recording I took home not too long ago, a recording that has already been deleted. I was sitting in front of Ana, or, as her clients call her, Charlotte. Ana looks like any other girl: she’s a 24 year-old student, she’s got friends and on her Facebook profile you can see pictures at concert venues and bars. No one would ever guess that, for six months now, she’s been working as a prostitute.
Ana contacted me after my article I talked to an ex-prostituted woman in Amsterdam and learned an important lesson went viral. This piece questions what choosing really means based on the experience of the girl I talked to. However, Ana had a very different perspective and we met so she could tell me about it. When I left, my head was spinning. Writing this piece has not been easy.
Before I continue, I want to be clear about something: this article doesn’t intend to be “the other side of the coin”, neither is it looking to defend the legalization of prostitution. It’s not about that. Personally, I still believe in abolition, but it actually doesn’t matter where you stand on this. What I want is to talk about this business from a privileged perspective, in order to get the whole picture. While talking to Ana I could go into detail about why men consume prostitution, why some women choose it even when they have other choices and which ways, beside the legal ones, can be taken to end will all the harm it causes.
HOW PROSTITUTION WORKS IN SPAIN
Ana: Why does a prostitute in Spain, granted she’s not in the mafia – I mean, that she isn’t pressured to stay there, why does she choose it? Because I normally get about 200€ a day.
Elisa: That’s a lot of money.
A: How much do you think I earn a month? 3000/4000€.
A: And I’m an educated girl. I have the opportunity to choose. But, what choice do I have to not be enslaved and earn that kind of money? Enslaved as in infinite hours, tons of work, a huge responsibility, being mentally exhausted at the end of the day. I’ve had two jobs, I’ve worked in an office and in a bar. When I was working in the bar I earned three euros an hour, I worked 10-hour shifts and I made about 800€ a month. That’s a miserable life for anyone. Here, I sell my intimacy, it’s definitely a big deal, but it’s really valued as for the money I get.
Ana drops this bomb on me as soon as we sit and I’m shocked, because this perspective couldn’t be further from what I knew about prostitution. But then she explains to me that, in Spain there are three main ways to conduct this business: in the streets, in a house, or doing the “plaza” (square). Prostitution in the streets is the most extended way, as well as the most common ground of action for mafias, which bring hordes of foreign girls, most of them suffering from drug addiction or poverty, to sell their bodies at extremely low fares (resulting in anyone being able to afford it) and under undesirable conditions. It is estimated that about 90% of the prostituted women in this country are in hands of the mafia, and their reality adjusts to the thoughts and experiences reflected in my previous article.
E: Why don’t these girls switch to working in a house?
A: Because houses don’t want them. In my house, for instance, girls come and go all the time, so at the first sign of anything crazy going on, you kick the girl out.
E: So they don’t do it because they can’t. That would be the kind of prostitution referred to in the article I wrote: you don’t get out because you can’t.
However, Ana works on a different level, which is less common that the streets and a lot more privileged: she’s in a house. She has never met any mafia, neither in her house nor in any of the ones that surround it.
E: How does your house work? Because you work in a house, right?
A: Yes, I’m not in the street. In the street people can see you, and girls there belong to a different profile: foreigners, drug-addicts (…) The mafia gets in there. Where I work, the mafia stays out. Furthermore, business is ruled by women.
Even though the house system is proportionally less common, it has become very expanded in Spain. And not all of them are the same: there are day houses (like Ana’s) and night houses, and every one of them has a specific image or offers a specific kind of service.
E: Do you have any authority over you or are you your own boss?
A: No, I’m not independent. When you’re in a house, there is a manager, or a madam, however you want to call her (…). Mine is a young girl, she’s 27. She has been a prostitute as well, so she knows what it’s all about and we are lucky to have her because she treats us extremely well. She’s the best boss I’ve ever had in any of my jobs, because she gives us moral support, economical support… she gives us anything we need. And she’s young, like me. Houses work like this: A client comes, after he’s contacted us through the house’s website because he’s seen your pictures. Pictures of your body, no face. We always stay anonymous, we even have a fake name. You offer your services and describe how you are. My profile, for instance, shows me as a love giver, a sweet girl, a listener (…) I don’t do wild sex.
E: So you have a choice on that.
A: Yes. Depending on how you are. Or your kind of body. I have a very sweet face, but there are girls who have gone through a lot of surgery and they are astonishing, models. They don’t offer the same service as me because it doesn’t fit with their bodies or their personalities (…)
E: Do all houses work like that? I mean, every person has a profile…
A: Yes (…) My house, for instance, is not high-standing, but it does have a wealthy, educated client. It doesn’t take drunks, it doesn’t take drug-addicts. All of those people stay out.
All these abysmal differences between Ana’s life and life under the mafia’s yoke are reliant, at the end of the day, on who has the last word. But, who says the first one?
At the beginning of the interview, Ana said something that’s got me thinking: “What choice do I have to not be enslaved and earn that kind of money?” In Spain we have been dragging a never-ending crisis for years now, and young people are incapable of accessing a well-paid job, even those of us who have gone to college. She has been able to access a high education, just as I have, and neither of us have found a job in our field that allowed us to pay for all our bills. We’re both the same age and we both know what it’s like to be an underpaid brat. And here’s when I realize that we are extremely alike, and that we live in the same economical and social reality… and so I wonder what has made us take such different paths.
E: How did you get into this?
A: There are many factors. Let’s see… Who gets into this? People who have been sexually traumatized or people who have had a bad life. I’ve had a bad life, I barely have any family – my dad’s in jail, my sister has mental problems, my mum is a drug addict… an awful situation.
E: That’s what the girl in the other article told me – that’s usually the kind of person that ends up in there, and they do it early, too.
A: Yes, but careful. Why did I get into this? Because I’m traumatized, I’m super depressive and I need self-destruction? No, I don’t need self-destruction, I need very good things in my life. I need quality. I need a good salary, I don’t need people to be fucking with me anymore. I’m studying and I can’t find a decent job because of the situation in Spain, and I don’t think I will even after finishing my studies. I need something that doesn’t crush me. Especially when it comes to money. And I need something that allows me to do anything I want. I haven’t entered this world to destroy myself. I’ve done it by choice, because I want to have a certain quality in my life. Because no one makes 4000€ a month.
E: It really is crazy, 4000€ a month.
A: It’s a lot of money. What happens with the kind of girl who has suffered all these things? The people I talk to, people who have really suffered, are not stupid. If you’ve had a very comfortable life, you’re a well-off person. You live in your house, you’ve studied and you live in a world of happiness and rainbows. People like me, who have gone through hell, know how to search and move around, and we don’t care. I don’t care being a whore. I don’t. I’ve taken so much shit that it’s not a big deal anymore. But hey, I’m speaking from an educated point of view. I’m not a fool. When I got started on this, I knew where I was getting into. And I said: “I want this, this and that. I want to be respected, I want “no” to mean “no” and I want to leave whenever I decide to leave. And if I want to charge this amount of money, it’s never going to be one cent less.” Luckily, my boss said: “Well, you’re not going to charge that – you’re going to charge more. And you’re not going to be respected, you’re going to be extremely respected.” I’ve been lucky, not all houses are like that.
She tells me about what she’s studying, which is Art-related, and we make bittersweet jokes about how hard it is to get around in that world.
A: I’ve told you I work eight hours a day, but I spend about three of them with clients. What do I do during those other five hours? I study. I talk to other girls. We watch TV, we have fun, we laugh (…) The other girls, the older ones who haven’t had a choice… why don’t they leave this job? Not long ago, we had an older lady who left to start working in a bar and she has come back because there’s no way she can stand making so little money anymore. Her life quality prevents her from earning less than that. Of course, it shouldn’t be like that, either (…)
E: Can’t that end up being a conditioning factor on your choice? I mean, you’re now used to something and in the end the result is that you can’t access anything else.
A: Yes, yes. Of course. But that’s not the kind of choice that you mentioned in your other article. It’s a different argument.
E: Exactly, because in this case you’re the one who’s got the barrier, it’s not imposed to you from the outside as in, for instance, not being able to get into college… You are conditioned (…) Aren’t you afraid of that happening to you? I mean, that some day you might want to leave but you won’t find such a well-paid job and you’ll end up having a problem.
A: Maybe. But I also think that my life changes constantly and I have no idea what the future holds. Watching these girls I do think that this is the path they all follow. Personally, I don’t think it’ll happen to me, because I feel very passionate about what I’m studying. I know what I want and I know I’m going to experience it, because I’m fighting for it. I know, at some point of my life I will end up making a living out of it. The possibility of coming back to this, sooner or later, or being affected by it… maybe, who knows.
As Ana tells me all of this, my thoughts fly back to the Dutch girl, with whom I’m still in touch and even developing a friendship. She is now re-building her life and it’s not being easy because of her past. But all of her obstacles come from a totally different experience from the one Ana is having. I remember Kris Kristofferson’s words, those I’ve so often heard from Janis Joplin: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”, and I think that, just as my friend went through all those horrible situations because she had nothing to lose when she entered this world, Ana’s lucky position must be sustained on having, precisely, a lot to lose. So far, we’ve only talked about economic loss but… What about intimacy? About identity? About emotional issues?