Brazil’s main export to the rest of the world is beautiful women, literally. According to the people at APRAMP (Asociación para la Prevención, Reinserción y Atención de la Mujer Prostituida, which you probably don't need to speak anything other than English in order to get the jist of), in 2008 more Brazilians worked as prostitutes in Spain than from any other Latin American country. Those girls with perfect skin and cornrows that all the tourists think are from Nigeria? Nuh-uh. Wrong.
In Spain, Catholic prudishness and a monumental double standard have meant that nobody has ever bothered to pass laws about prostitution one way or another. Couple this with infamously slack policing of organized crime and you get various mafias doing what they do best: raking in huge profits from the black market trade in whatever they can make money of. In this case, it's girls.
Where the state fails enormously by ignoring the problem, APRAMP are redressing the situation through outreach programs, counseling, and the type of retraining that might seem like a joke to you, but is totally invaluable if the only thing you’ve done for your adult life is open your legs and snort coke. They also put us in touch with one of the girls who’s benefited from their help.
Rose Maura de Souza, or Sol, worked for four years in various flats and "bares de copas," which are strip bars without the stripping and with bedrooms attached, in and around Madrid.
Vice: Where were you born? What was your childhood like.
Sol: There were six in my family and I’m the eldest. I was brought up in a small town called Rosario Oeste in Mato Grosso state. I went to school up until eighth grade, and then worked in a clothes shop. I got married at 17, and it was a total disaster. After nine years of abuse I walked out, carrying my five-year-old son. It was about that time when a cousin of mine who had been living in Spain came home for a holiday. She invited me to go back with her, telling me that she had already found me a job, working as a cleaner, which would pay 1,200 euros a month. A great salary. She also paid for my flight.
Sounds like a good offer. How long after arriving in Spain did you start working as a prostitute?
As soon as I arrived in the one-room flat I would share with her, I knew that it wasn’t exactly as she’d made out. The job didn’t exist and I had to pay her back and send money to my son. I went to the churches and tried to find work, but not speaking Spanish and being a single foreigner didn’t help matters. After two months I went on the street.
Did that solve your money problems?
Let me guess. Coke?
Coke and weed. It’s not like you have a choice, as the owners of the flats often sell to the clients to make them stay longer and spend more money. So it’s part of the job.
They call them "pisos de plaza." The girls are moved every 21 days, either to another flat in the city or to other cities around Spain. The flats are really profitable for the owners, so they often have several on the go. Or they do a deal with other similar landlords. They move the girls so the clients don’t get bored. There’s always fresh meat on offer.
What did you do to relax?
When you work as a prostitute, you’re so involved that you can’t think about anything except working. All the plans you used to make for the future are forgotten. For me, I was so physically and mentally exhausted that the only thing I looked forward to was sleep (when they let me). It was the only thing that let me forget the nightmare I was living.
Sorry I asked. But now we’re on the subject, what was your lowest point?
Do you want a list? OK then: The first time I slept with someone for money; the feeling that because they paid money they had the right to abuse and insult you; my first abortion; the loneliness….I really don’t like thinking about it.
So how did you get out?
I got ill. After four years of taking cocaine and drinking daily, my stomach gave up. One day I was working a bar and feeling awful. The owner brought me a glass of champagne that a customer had ordered for me, and told me to drink it. I felt this awful pain in my belly, and the barman picked me up and left me on the pavement outside without any money. I managed to get a taxi driver to take me to hospital. There they gave me one of APRAMP’s cards. As soon as I got out, I jumped the metro and went to see if they could help me.
And did they?
They gave me refuge with access to textile workshops and counseling, and eventually a contract. Now I work with other women who’ve been through similar situations.
The biggest problem with prostitution in Spain is that it’s totally not legislated. It’s not legal or illegal. In your view, how does that affect the opinions of the general Spanish public?
The general view of prostitutes is that the girls want to work. They enjoy it and the money’s good. What always makes me laugh is this double standard that the men have. The respectable ones, the ones that would talk down about prostitutes to their friends and families, are our biggest clients.
What do you miss about Brazil?
My family, my house, my friends. The rivers in my town. Everything.
Will you ever go back?
This summer, after being away for five years I’m finally going back to see them. If everything keeps going according to plan here, I’ll go back for good in six.