What the heck did my friend and I witness in Spain?
February 19, 2021 12:10 PM   Subscribe

In June 2013 during a road trip from Altea to Valencia, a friend and I noticed a peculiar occurrence. Friend is now a social worker and suggested an entirely possible but disturbing explanation. Could there be any other explanation that we're overlooking?

In summer 2013 a pal and I took a day trip on the coast from Altea (Cap- Negret) to Valencia which was about a two hour leisure drive for us. We departed around noon and took some back roads and I wouldn't describe the route as being either completely rural or suburban. We passed several large vacation-like complexes with modern apartment or condo structures and more quaint picturesque villages. Perhaps 20-40 mins along the route we drove through what I would consider a suburban neighborhood of single family homes. I couldn't guess how much but each property had a fair amount of land and also space between adjacent houses. Most of the homes seemed to have either an entry fence/gate or a long driveway structure in front of the domicile. This is what we observed as we drove through this neighborhood.

At the entry of a home's driveway/gate, we both noticed a young woman sitting in a lawn chair. She was dressed up as if going to a party or going out with friends and as if she was waiting for a taxi. This stood out because it felt as if we were in the middle of no where in a countryside residential area and we'd driven so far without seeing another person. Yet, at every other house it was the same scenario; a young woman sitting or standing at the entry of a residence, and I wouldn't describe them as being provocatively dressed but they were styled as if going out to a nightclub or a similar type party. That also caught our attention because it was quite early the afternoon. I remember that they were either lost in a book, scrolling on their phones, or just zoned out. They all had backpacks or duffle bags and I initially assumed that they were waiting for a bus or even a carpool. After seeing more than 30 girls/women or so, I remember thinking that perhaps there was a local event/celebration/festival because what we were seeing was just felt so out place for the area. Also, I considered many of them girls or at least high schoolers because I was 22 y/o at the time and thought that most of them appeared far younger than me.

For context:

- There was one woman per every other home like clockwork.
- They were always alone. Never two or more together.
- They were clearly situated on the properties attached to the homes. I assumed that they either lived there or had familial connections.
- It was no later than 1pm in the afternoon.
- They wore dressy going-out attire and makeup.
- They all had an overnight, duffle, satchel, or backpack like bag.
- Appeared to be between ages 15 - 25
- Never noticed any similar aged boys or men in the same capacity.
- Never noticed any other people around for the matter.
- Because of the isolation of one home to another, it seemed as if the women were oblivious to the presence the each other*.
- It was limited to this neighborhood of about 50 homes or so.
- This town was so small that there didn't seem to be any local mass transportation available.
- Various aspects of it did feel instinctively "odd" beyond very logical explanations as to why they were all there.

At the time my friend and I commented about the women but we didn't really speculate further than, "Yeah, this is weird."

In fact, I didn't read more into this until Friend recently jogged my memory and suggested that what we saw was an example of Western European organized human trafficking. That surprised me because I had more innocuous ideas considering the unassuming neighborhood, time of day, and the scarcity of travel along that route. What we both agreed is that we've never seen anything like that before or since in our own experiences or travels. I think it's far more likely that I'm incredibly naive but I'm very curious to know if there are any examples anecdotal or otherwise about what this potentially was? I've had other travels throughout rural and metro western Europe and I never seen anything like I've described above.

Also, I cannot exactly remember each town that we passed. I've spent a few days trying to pin point our route and which neighborhood this happened, but empty handed so far.

*I could be completely wrong because cell phones/texting were and are a thing.
posted by dea to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sure sounds like a red light district. (Whether or not the women were trafficked is maybe not something it would be possible to know from just driving by.)
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:25 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]

Those are prostitutes and they will get into the john's car and drive with him to his home, or, go down the lane and work in the car. Source: have driven around rural Italy and seen the same thing, including women getting into cars/receiving payments.
posted by holyrood at 12:38 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]

Why were they at every second home? Zoning laws restricting density of professions?
posted by spacewrench at 12:41 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]

The other ones were already out with customers.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:49 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]

Not sure why you think this is ‘human trafficking’. It is almost definitely prostitution but that doesn’t automatically equal trafficking.
posted by Megami at 1:50 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the answers! To be clear, I'm aware that perhaps this was possibly a scenario of prostitution but I sensed my friend suggested human trafficking because of distinct presence of young minors. I think that is one of the components that raised question over this being a sex work vs human trafficking scenario.
posted by dea at 2:12 PM on February 19

Not thread-sitting but besides the presence of the girls/women, I was mainly confused about the structure and all of its implications. Even if it was an unofficial red light district, why were they comfortably situated on what looked to be private properties? Did the home owners not know or care that their properties were being used for solicitation? Were they in on in it too? Why exactly every other home in this random small neighborhood? Why did it start and stop so abruptly from one town to another?
There's nothing mysterious about sex work exactly but I think the uniqueness of the details stood out in the case. Perhaps it was local zoning regulations at work as suggested but I've never seen anything quite like this.
posted by dea at 2:50 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

We were in Catalunya and saw similar thing afew years ago. Spain's prostitution and trafficking overlap, from what I read up on it, and it's everywhere. It appears to be common and obvious, even on back country roads and villages. Each town's mayor or police chief seems to decide which 'rules' to follow.
posted by artdrectr at 3:06 PM on February 19

You've already got your answer, but ...

I lived in Oliva, Spain for three months in 2017, which is right in between your two travel points. If you took the E-15, you passed right through it.

I'm a big walker and saw these women often, though never in front of houses. They were at many intersections, though, sitting in lawn chairs, often with a large bottle of water. I also didn't know what they were doing there, but I assumed, logically, that they were waiting for a bus.

Since I love to just head off randomly when I travel (I take lots of pictures of buildings and shrubs), I decided to wait for a bus along with one of the women and see where I ended up. I stood at a respectable distance and the woman, at first, looked at me as if she expected me to say something. As I don't speak Spanish, I simply gave her a smiling nod, which caused her to quickly look away. She immediately took out her phone and started texting, never turning her head to me again.

Some time passed -- maybe 20 minutes -- and a car drove up and the woman got in. I made a motion for her to stop, but the car sped off. She forgot her chair, I thought, and her water, just as the narrator inside my head followed up with, This isn't a bus stop.

As it happens, I had gone to Oliva to look after a cat, summoned by a Maltese woman who decided after two and a half weeks that she hated the Seychelles and was returning to Oliva. Already having a return ticket for 10 weeks away, and not expecting to have to pay for lodging during this trip, I ended up in a penthouse owned by a wannabe-gangster who had been introduced to me by a crooked cop who was the landlord of my employer. In the penthouse, I was tasked with tending to a dog and a turtle as a way of covering room and board. Basically, I spent the rest of my three months walking the streets of Oliva and playing dominoes with the cop and the gangster.

One day, I told them my bus story and they burst out laughing. "Prostitutes?" I asked.

"Prostitutes," they confirmed.

So, yeah, I'm Nthing prostitutes.
posted by dobbs at 7:22 PM on February 19 [31 favorites]

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