A number of NGOs, individuals, human rights groups and sex workers are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work in Malta as the government looks into reforming the sector.
The Maltese debate seemingly hinges on whether clients should be penalised for buying the services of a sex worker in Malta.
Several NGOs and women’s rights organisations had argued against the decriminalisation of sex work in Malta, saying it would turn the island into a mecca for sex tourism.
However, several groups have now spoken in support of decriminalising sex buyers. NGOs Aditus, the Integra Foundation, as well as key individuals such as Clayton Mercieca, the founder of ARC, Mina Tolu from Alternattiva Demokratika, LGBTIQ activist Ruth Baldacchino as well as Maltese sex worker Karen Spagnol have all laid out their points.
They argued that keeping the industry illegal forces the activities underground, increasing the danger to sex workers and promoting human trafficking.
“Full decriminalisation is a human right.”
Clayton Mercieca, Community Manager with Allied Rainbow Communities (ARC), spoke in his personal capacity on the subject.
“Malta will not become the sex hub of Europe because it decriminalises sex work,” he said. “Far from it, but at least it gives dignity and protection to those who choose to offer a service whilst also abating the shame surrounding it.”
“Malta is already a hub of cheap exploited labour, human and sex trafficking,” he continued. “Let’s not bury our heads in the sand and pretend our economy is thriving because of highly skilled workers.”
Mercieca pointed out what he saw as the flawed logic behind the ‘Nordic Model’, a model that criminalises sex buyers and is supported by several women’s rights organisations.
“The coalition that keeps advocating for the Nordic model is simply focusing on a stereotypical image of a woman forced to have sex with abusive men,” he said. “That is not sex work – that is rape.”
He also raised the longstanding issue of having sex workers for people with disabilities, something that several Maltese people with disabilities have called for themselves.
“Vulnerable groups like people with disabilities deserve to buy sex without shame,” he posited. “Should they be punished for this?”
Karen, a Maltese sex worker, had previously called for her work to be regulated so that she can enter the white market and pay her taxes, just like other Maltese workers.
“Prostitution should be legalised so I can pay taxes and national insurance like everyone else, I can be safe, and so I have a right to a pension just like everyone else,” she said in an interview on Xarabank.
Rosianne Cutajar, the parliamentary secretary for equality and reforms, has laid out her tentative plans for the reform.
“I believe that we need to build on the experiences of other countries but develop our piece of legislation, rather than copying one model or the other,” Cutajar said.
“One definite principle will be the decriminalisation of prostitution (loitering) as regards the prostitute,” she continued. “The legal position of a client buying a sexual service will remain as it is today, i.e. the client would not be committing a crime. The reform should also introduce a programme to assist prostitutes with a background of social problems who end up in this circle.”
“Prostitution is a reality for some individuals, either out of choice or because they have no other alternative.”