The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Decriminalisation of sex work: Technical committee report on the way to Cabinet

Giulia Magri Sunday, 30 August 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Prostitution Reform Technical Committee is in the initial stages of drafting a legal framework that aims to decriminalise sex work, Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms, Rosianne Cutajar, has told this newsroom.

The consultation period is now over, and the report is in the process of being finalised and presented to Cabinet.

Whilst the report is in the process of being finalised, the direction given by the Parliamentary Secretary is yet to be agreed upon by the Cabinet, and therefore is subject to change.


Back in September 2019, then Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli had launched a public consultation exercise on reforming prostitution and human trafficking laws.

This year, Cutajar has expressed that she is in favour of decriminalisation but made it clear that discussions were still taking place and that all different country models were being discussed. She stated that the government was open to all types of consultations and that she wished to find an approach that suited the Maltese context. The discussion was heating up just before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the island.

The reform itself has brought on a number of heated debates, one side pushing for full legislation and regulation (the German model), while the other side calling for the decriminalisation of prostitutes and the criminalisation of those who buy sex (the Nordic model).

Back in March, a coalition of 40 NGOs compromising of mostly women’s groups and experts in gender equality came together calling for sex-buying to be made a crime. The coalition published a statement stating that ditching the Nordic Model was an “insult to women and will take the country backwards.”


Decriminalise sex work to ensure safety and well-being of sex workers

Speaking to this newsroom, Cutajar told this newsroom that a Prostitution Reform Technical Committee was set up with the task to evaluate the outcomes of the public consultation process, carry out further consultations and develop a legal and policy framework.

The framework aims to; “Decriminalise sex work; ensure the safety and well-being of sex workers by protecting them from coercion, exploitation and other violence; Safeguard the human rights of sex workers and protect them from exploitation; Promote the welfare, health and safety of sex workers; while providing a framework that is conducive to public health, which includes the promotion and adoption of safer sex practices by sex workers and their clients.”


Human rights approach

Cutajar explained that the Government is taking a human rights and intersectional approach to address the human rights violations, discrimination, social exclusion and violence faced by sex workers. “The focus of this reform has always been and will continue to be on sex workers.”

Prostitution in Malta is already legal, but certain aspects are criminalised, such as running a brothel and loitering. According to Cutajar, the government will propose legal amendments that will decriminalise certain aspects of sex work, such as removing those provisions that treated sex workers as criminals and strengthen the law to address violence against sex workers.

 “We recognise that sex workers have never been recognised and protected by law and by taking a human rights approach, this reform will go beyond decriminalisation. It will address the violations, inequalities and exclusion faced by sex workers in their lives.”


Brothels and pimping to remain illegal

When asked whether brothels or pimping will be legalised, the government has no intention to legalise brothels and pimping will still remain illegal and laws will be harshened in this regard.

When asked whether the buyer would be criminalised, it was explained that sex work is a “transaction between adults (sex worker and the client)”. The sex worker being either female, male, gender non-conforming, cisgender or transgender, will receive money in exchange for sexual services, either regularly or occasionally. “Criminalising one aspect of that transaction will not decriminalise sex work.”


Who forms part of the Prostitution Reform Technical Committee?

The Reform Technical Committee is made up of individuals who have either the expertise or work in an area of relevance to the reform. The Committee was appointed by Cutajar. The Committee includes by LGBTIQ & Intersex Activist Ruth Baldacchino (Chair), Sexologist Matthew Bartolo, Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) Oliver Scicluna, Director of Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS) Remenda Grech, International Relations Director FSWS Claudette Abela Baldacchino, lawyer Dr Cheryl Azzopardi and lawyer Dr Andrew Saliba.


Sex workers will no longer be charged with prostitution offences

Earlier this month, the police arrested three women over prostitution and solicitation offences in Ta’ Xbiex. Now, if the report passes through Cabinet and decriminalises sex work, sex workers will no longer be charged with prostitution offences.

“We know that these offences do nothing but create more challenges and difficulties for sex workers. We are taking measures, and in the last couple of months, we have worked with public entities to set up and deliver support services aimed for sex workers. Public health remains our utmost priority, and we are committed to safeguarding everyone’s health, including sex workers’ health.”

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