The Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament recently completed a fact-finding mission to Spain’s Balearic Islands to investigate the care of minors in state custody living in group homes. They specifically addressed the question of whether adolescents had been caught up in prostitution. Eight MEPs from right-leaning parties made up the mission and announced that a detailed report would take approximately three months to be released. It will take time to determine whether the prostitution of minors was occasional, or the product of a prostitution ring.
A petition was submitted to the European Parliament by José Luis Sánchez Saliquet, a former VOX candidate for the islands, alongside Marisol Vicens, a member of the centre-right Partido Popular, and activist Carmen Cordón.
The committee members took statements from mothers of the exploited children, and from the journalists who broke the story to the public.
Sadly, the facts as revealed by journalists thus far show negligence towards these young women on the part of the socialist-led regional government and its social service arm, Instituto Mallorquín de Asuntos Sociales (IMAS)—this, despite the agency’s feminist leanings and an approximately €200 million annual taxpayer-funded budget.
“My daughter has suffered abuse and exploitation, and the Instituto Mallorquín de Asuntos Sociales is hiding it from me,” one mother reportedly told the fact-finders. “My daughter is now 16 years old and I have found out that she has been suffering from this situation for several years and on some occasions without leaving the juvenile centre.”
Julio Bastida, editor of Ultima Hora Events and one of the journalists who has reported the story, also testified that “for years there has been a complicit silence between institutions to hide or minimize cases of abuse, prostitution and escapes from IMAS supervised centers.”
The problem of minors in state custody being recruited into prostitution came to public light in 2019, when a 13-year-old Moroccan girl living in a group home, told her caretakers that she had been raped by five men—four of them minors—at an apartment building where it was known that adolescents from the home often congregated when they ran away. After she returned from her escapade and told her caretakers what had happened, the girl was taken to the hospital where doctors confirmed that she had injuries consistent with sexual assault.
But details of the girl’s story pointed to more than a straightforward case of rape. She said that she had been at a local bar that night where she had been served alcohol and men offered her money in exchange for sex.
That there were problems in Palma de Mallorca with adolescents in state care being caught up in prostitution was well known by both social workers at group homes and the police. Shortly before the incident that caused a public scandal, VOX had called for an investigation of the issue in the regional parliament based on testimony from social workers. Subsequent investigations by the local newspaper Diario de Mallorca also confirmed that the problem had been well-known and widespread for years, far beyond the 16 incidents recognized IMAS in a 2020 report on the issue of prostitution.
According to the Diario de Mallorca, social workers also attest that in approximately the last four years prostitution among their charges has changed from a rare incident to an almost normalized phenomenon. In some centres, all the girls have engaged in prostitution. It usually occurs when the minors run away, according to social workers.
The IMAS report has also attempted to blame the prostitution problem on care facilities and social factors, essentially exculpating itself. But social workers in the group homes tell a different story.
Those working directly with the youth have expressed their frustration with both the police and higher authorities of IMAS. Diario de Mallorca reports that when a minor reports that she has been prostituted, social workers must first submit an internal report to their superiors at IMAS, the General Directorate for Minors, or the Prosecutor’s Office for Minors. According to social workers, they have faithfully filed these reports for years, but, in general, institutional management responds with requests for other reports, and does not act on the information.
“We make reports every time we detect one of these cases. We have information about the flats in which these girls are prostituted, but we do not see anything being done,” one social worker told Diario de Mallorca.
Others spoke of “absolute negligence” on the part of the upper echelons of IMAS.
The only notable concrete response has been courses on preventing sex trafficking, according to the Diario de Mallorca.
Even in the 16 cases of prostitution recognized by the IMAS 2020 report, months passed between when the girl told social workers she had been prostituted and when the incident was reported to the police.
According to Diario de Mallorca, the only organization that has effectively addressed the problem is the Amaranta Foundation, an organization created by the Catholic congregation Religiosas Adoratrices, which has several group homes in Spain and transfers minors who are being sexually exploited to the peninsula.
IMAS currently has 359 minors, of which 278 are adolescents, under its custody distributed among 30 centres that it either runs directly or are managed by private organisations such as Amaranta Foundation.