Malta’s upcoming prostitution law will place the rights of sex workers who legitimately want to work in the industry at the forefront, Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Rosianne Cutajar has pledged.
“I’m using the word ‘sex worker’ intentionally because some people don’t realise it can be a job,” Cutajar said in a speech in Parliament last night. “We can’t keep hiding from the facts.”
“We must be realistic and admit that while thousands of people become prostitutes against their own will, either because they have drug problems or a pimp, there are others who want to working the sex industry.”
“There are various reasons why they’d want to do this and I’m not going to judge them.”
Cutajar is spearheading a reform to decriminalise prostitution, which is set to be discussed at Cabinet level in the coming months before a law is presented to Parliament.
“I didn’t only place women’s organisations at the centre of this reform, but the sex workers themselves,” she said. “How can we pass a law on prostitution without consulting with people who directly work in the sector?”
“There was an element of shame when I spoke to local sex workers, who didn’t want to show their faces, but European sex workers had no problem.”
Indeed, she was struck by how Swedish sex workers told her during a virtual meeting that her outreach was the first time a government official ever bothered speaking to them about their own jobs.
“Sex workers are often sidelined, a stigma is developed against them, and politicians ignore their needs. As politicians, we should safeguard everyone’s rights.”
While there’s been widespread agreement about the need to decriminalise prostitution, there’s been some political debate about whether Malta should adopt the ‘Swedish model’, which decriminalises prostitutes but criminalises their clients.
The Nationalist Party and a number of women’s organisations have come out in favour of this option.
However, Cutajar warned last night that going down this route will only force the industry underground and make conditions less safe for sex workers and buyers alike.
“Sex workers in countries which introduced the Swedish model started working in isolation. France saw a rise in the number of prostitute murder victims, because when it went underground it became much harder to protect them.”
“These sex workers lost their bargaining powers. They could no longer dictate their conditions but the client did, seeing as he was the criminally responsible party.”
She said police started using the presence of a large number of condoms at the sex worker’s location as criminal evidence against sex clients. Consequently, a number of sex workers stopped using condoms, at risk to their and their client’s health.
Cover photo: Rosianne Cutajar during a recent meeting with people jailed on prostitution charges
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