The Malta Independent 12 July 2020, Sunday

Integra and aditus foundations support full decriminalisation of adult consensual sex work

Tuesday, 5 November 2019, 17:36 Last update: about 9 months ago

The aditus foundation and Integra Foundation have submitted their input for the public consultation on the Reform on human trafficking and prostitution launched by the Parliamentary Secretariat for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes in September 2019, supporting the full decriminalisation of adult consensual sex work

Aditus foundation and Integra encouraged efforts to reform the current legislation regulating sex work in order to combat the discrimination and marginalisation of sex workers, and to improve their access to healthcare, housing, social security and protection under the law.


 "The criminalisation of sex work (including the criminalisation of clients), embalmed in stigma and shame, forces sex workers to operate at the margins of society in dangerous conditions and increases exposure to violence, discrimination and abuse. Multifaceted and intersecting forms of discrimination and structural inequalities have an impact on the autonomy of sex workers and their quality of life."

Legislative and policy reform should seek to make the distinction between the sex work sector, and exploitative labour practices within it - with a commitment to eradicating the latter, the foundations said. "Our position is that any legislative and policy reform should seek to ensure that no person is forced to engage in sex work as a means of survival. As such, the focus must be on the key structural barriers (including inter alia legal, administrative, economic, educational, social and cultural) to the realization of sex workers' human rights, whilst reminding the state of its obligations in this regard."

The NGOs highlighted that correlating human trafficking with sex work and vice versa creates numerous problems: it creates confusion amongst practitioners, media and the public and it can lead to practices and laws that are harmful to trafficked persons, migrants and sex workers alike.

" Any automatic assumptions that sex workers are victims of trafficking is detrimental for efforts to reduce trafficking and detrimental to the protection of the rights and safety for sex workers. A clear distinction must be made between exploitative situations and trafficking, and voluntary and consensual sexwork. This distinction should be reflected in the different legal frameworks that regulate the eradication of trafficking of persons on one hand and the regulation of consensual sex work."

In terms of sex workers' rights, "it is felt that criminalisation of sex work constitutes a breach of personal autonomy, privacy and liberty of the sex worker when it is a consensual, private and voluntary act. The culture of criminalisation creates an environment for harassment, extortion, law enforcement abuse and physical abuse. Research has shown that criminalisation makes sex workers vulnerable to violence and unsafe conditions. From a human rights based approach, sex work cannot be seen to be a form of sexual violence, but an expression of a person's free will and bodily autonomy, as protected by Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which holds that 'No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.' Furthermore, the idea that not all instances of sex work are inherently exploitative or constitute a violation of women's human rights seems to be reflected in Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which obliges States Parties to 'take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.'"

The NGOs concluded by supporting the full decriminalisation of adult consensual sex work, and a refocus from catch-all offences that criminalise most or all aspects of sex work and towards laws that protect sex worker's health and safety and that oppose all acts of exploitation and trafficking in commercial sex.

"Furthermore, in order to protect the rights of sex workers it is also necessary to repeal those which make the buying of sex from consenting adults or the organization of sex work (such as prohibitions on renting premises for sex work) a criminal offence."

 "We emphasise that the exercise of sex work as a consensual and voluntary exchange between adults should be reserved to adults and that children under the age of 18 should be excluded. It should be noted that when we refer to children and/or minors we are referring to children under the age of 18 as defined in Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child4 and not children under the age of consent as defined by Maltese law."

 They said that  any full decriminalisation needs to be supported by a number of other legal and policy initiatives such as: access to legal protections pertaining to health (including sexual and reproductive health), employment and discrimination; Full and equal protection under the law as well as effective remedies, including for offences involving rape and sexual violence, abuse of authority, assault, extortion and all other crimes; Measures to ensure the effective investigation, prosecution and punishment of violence against sex workers without discrimination; Training and monitoring measures for law enforcement officials and health and social service providers to help protect the human rights of sex workers and more.

"Nevertheless, we reiterate that a clear distinction must be made between forced commercial sex and consensual sex work. The fact that coercion and abuse can still occur should be recognised and all the legal protections should be in place in order to ensure the safety of the sex worker, effective access to justice and strong support systems to enable persons to exit from exploitative or abusive situations. "




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