Sexual abuse of cross-border women workers

Sexual abuse of cross-border women workers
2010. Isabel Álvarez and Francisca Aguilar, workers in Gibraltar from the 40s to the 80s, chat beside the window of Amar's Bakery and Confectionery, in Gibraltar. The bakery opened in 1820. It prepares products according to the Jewish religion and used to bake certain Jewish dishes for sale. Photograph: Beatriz Díaz Martínez. © Beatriz Díaz Martínez

Sexual abuse of cross-border women workers

Sexual abuse of women was a common reality on both sides of the border, in the context of cross-border dependence. It affected domestic servants and women working in the catering business (bars…), and women who needed to work in. The testimonies insist that abuse was widespread. Francisca Aguilar recalls: «Many lasses who wanted to enter Gibraltar were conquered (sic) by the secret police. They had to sleep with them and then they got their permit.»

The criminalising look poured upon women who worked in Gibraltar was voiced in remarks like «loss of decency» and «bad image». Isabel Álvarez explains: «My husband didn’t want me to work in Gibraltar. “God knows how you earn money!”, he would say to me».

For the same reason, the work of women smugglers and black marketers was «frowned upon», as expressed by the interviewees themselves. The writer José Araújo knew of sexual abuse as part of the crackdown on small-scale smuggling (called «matute») between Tarifa and Gibraltar, which was carried out by the widows of sailors with dependent children:

«The members of the brigadilla (plain clothes Civil Guards pursuing contraband) didn’t always arrest the smuggler. Some of them out of kind-heartedness, others in exchange for something like a sexual relation (sic).»