A coalition made up of leading Maltese female activists has urged newly-appointed equality Minister Owen Bonnici to reconsider the government’s approach to prostitution reform.
The Government’s current position on the matter was adopted by former equality Minister Rosianne Cutajar and it proposes to decriminalise both sex workers and their customers as part of a progressive reform.
Malta’s Coalition on Human Trafficking and Prostitution Reform maintain that the government’s position is “ill-informed of the human, societal and economic costs of the proposal to legalise sex-buying”.
“The proposal fails to acknowledge the inextricable link between legalised prostitution and human trafficking,” they said.
The coalition referenced the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report that found that Malta is still failing to reach the minimum standards for elimination of the trade.
The report highlights inadequacies in the island’s capacity to “identify victims, coordinate between ministries, enforce labour recruitment regulations and monitor massage parlours which sees a higher incidence of trafficking indicators”.
The lobby group further argued that the government’s proposal will exasperate these difficulties and pave the way for increased trafficking.
It also said that this proposal will perpetuate “dysfunctional and dystopian” realities.
Asserting that sex workers will now “loiter and solicit” outside schools, homes, hotels, restaurants and bars, subsequently attracting young girls into this “glitter studded trade of abuse and exploitation”.
The coalition even touched on the proposal’s link to Malta’s recent FATF greylisting that emphasised the need for the country to improve its policies surrounding money laundering.
They explained that the global sex trade is annually worth €1 billion. It is controlled by international gangs and networks of pimps and traffickers with “top shelf expertise in circumnavigating the state” to launder money.
Thus, this proposal of legality merely enables such illegitimate behaviour of pimps and traffickers, they said.
The reform group concluded by suggesting that Bonnici work on a reform that does not criminalise the “victims of the sex industry” but eradicates the abusive power and control of johns, pimps and traffickers.
The coalition group includes former president Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, academic and women’s rights activist Anna Borg, international human rights land justice reform practitioner Helen Burrows, academic and social activist Angele Deguara, lawyer and women’s rights activist Lara Dimitrijevic, women’s rights activist and founder of the Women for Women community Francesca Fenech Conti, researcher and women’s rights activist Marietherese Gatt, Dar Hosea researcher Romina Gatt Lopez and Dar Hosea manager Anna Vella.
Despite the very strong arguments provided by the coalition, this issue is highly sensitive as it involves the livelihoods of several sex workers that not only depend on their careers to survive, but feel empowered while doing it.
There is an indubitable issue of exploitation and abuse in the global sex trade, however these are not intrinsic to the job itself. Rather, they are the result of pimps and traffickers who use prostitution as a means to prey on and control vulnerable individuals.
That is why laws that criminalise pimps should unquestionably be implemented.
However, rather than outlawing the customers that provide these workers the funds they need to sustain themselves, there should be regulations that ensure that the individuals getting involved in this profession are; of sound mental health; appropriate age; have fully and autonomously consented to this decision; are regularly checked in on; pay tax on their work and; are given specific areas where soliciting is allowed.
It is unrealistic to think that sex work is going to disappear – and before making any decisions, the people who are involved in the industry should be given a voice and a vote to decide their fate.
Do you think Malta should remove all criminal punishments for sex workers and buyers?