The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Prostitution - More support and the way forward

Tuesday, 13 August 2019, 11:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prostitution reform is a subject that emerges in the press from time to time, but is often overshadowed by other news items like government scandals, or environmental controversies.

Regardless however, it is an important topic that needs its own space for public debate. Recently, lawyer and director of Malta’s Women’s Rights Foundation Lara Dimitrijevic said that “prostitution exploits women.”

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 “I say women because research, including from the United Nations, show that between 70 to 80 percent of the victims are women and children, followed by transgender people, and then men,” she said.

“It is exploitative because you are purchasing the body of a person,” Dimitrijevic noted that one would be buying the body of a person for their sexual gratification.” She believes that this is in itself wrong because it creates inequality, and she is absolutely right.

When one thinks of prostitution, one at first associates this line of work with women, mainly as most prostitutes are women. A large percentage of people in prostitution are undertaking that line of work out of desperation, or perhaps because they have never known any other kind of life. They could also be victims of the circumstances within which they were brought up.

While there would most certainly be some people who want to be prostitutes, that number is small. However even here, Dimitrijevic says “It must be asked why women feel the need to sell their body to sustain themselves.” One factor, which Dimitrijevic says is evident from the women she has worked with and confirmed by research, is child sexual abuse. She explains that even as children, these women do not understand sexual boundaries, making them more susceptible. 

Prostitutes however must not be the ones who are punished. Indeed this newsroom has delved into the prostitution topic, having interviewed people who work with prostitutes, as well as womens’ organisations on the issue, and many had recommended a model which punishes the buyer, while keeping prostitutes decriminalised and offering a wide array of support services to those working in prostitution.

Indeed back in 2017, a volunteer at Dar Hosea (a day centre for women involved in prostitution) had recounted to this newsroom some stories told to her by women who work as prostitutes. She quoted what a prostitute, who has since passed away, once told her: "We are like toilets: men use us and leave us there.”

The volunteer had explained that social class also has nothing to do with who becomes a prostitute. “You can come from a high social class and end up in prostitution, or from a low social class and never end up in prostitution. I've seen women who are used to a certain kind of lifestyle. There would have been sexual abuse by family members or friends, they would feel exploited and end up on the street, just the same. I have dealt with people who began taking cocaine, spending thousands of euros each day, and their family cut them off, or the money runs out, and then they ended up in prostitution."

The volunteer had also said that there were child prostitutes in Malta.

Efforts need to be made to help women who are stuck in those situations. For those who are addicted to drugs, perhaps more support is needed. For those who have been victims of sexual abuse, whose self-esteem has been stripped from them, society must help them stand back up on their feet. For those who feel there is no way out, they need to be shown that there is. Of course separating prostitutes from their pimps is also a matter that would need to be sorted out, as many would be attached.

The idea of paying for sex not only objectifies the person being paid, turning that person’s body into a commodity, but because prostitution is mainly associated with women helps add to the objectification of women. When paying for a prostitute, one does not know or care about that person’s whole back story, does not know if they were raped as a child, does not know if they were beaten by their parents, does not know whether they are in poverty and have mouths to feed and feel as though they have no choice but to be there. These people need to be helped by not just the state, but society as a whole.

A case and point would be the stripper who was pelted with eggs during a bachelor’s party last week. She told a news portal that there was no abuse in the act, and that full consent was given by both her and the groom to be pelted. At the same time, one questions and worries where society is heading when some men decide to hire a woman to strip down and humiliate her just for a quick laugh, using her body for entertainment.

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