The Malta Independent 2 August 2021, Monday

Sex workers should be given same rights and dignity as any other worker - NGOs

Giulia Magri Friday, 18 September 2020, 14:53 Last update: about 12 months ago

The Maltese constitution must treat all as equals, and if sex workers continue to be treated as lesser beings in society, then the constitution will have failed in its duty to protect all against discrimination and abuse, and continue to fail in protecting sex workers, a group of NGOs said on Friday.

“One of our core values is respecting and recognising fundamental human rights, which include equality, freedom from discrimination, gender equality and the right to self-determination. Coming from this, we believe that the discourse on sex work must move to one grounded in giving sex workers the right and dignity as any other worker which is what we have understood the sex work reform and the technical committee aim to do with their recommendations.” 


The statement is penned by Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM), Allied Rainbow Communities (ARC), Aditus Foundation, LGBTI+ Gozo, Checkpoint Malta and Integra Foundation. Their statement follows the recent comments made by Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar, who told this newsroom that the prostitution reform technical committee is drafting a legal framework that aims to decriminalise sex work. 

A coalition of 40 women’s organisations, NGOs and prominent people had stressed that recommendations to legalise prostitution will turn Malta into a hub of sex tourism. The coalition also states that no one in the committee has any expertise in the matter of human trafficking or prostitution. 

The NGOs believe that sex workers should be given agency and not continue to be treated as criminals or simply ‘damsels in ‘distress’. “The life of a sex worker is much more complex than that.” 

The statement does not ignore the fact that there are those sex workers who have been trafficked into prostitution and that once the necessary legislations are in place, there also needs to be exit programmes and support for all those who need it and harsher action against pimps. “Hon. Rosianne Cutajar’s interview about the reform seemed to imply that the recommendations for the reform are heading in this direction.” 

Sex work and human trafficking be two separate issues 

The NGOs also believe that sex work and human trafficking should be tackled as two separate issues. “Human trafficking is a multi-faceted global problem and has to be tackled accordingly but it must have a reform dedicated solely to it, rather than falling under the umbrella of sex work because forced sex work is just one of the reasons why humans are trafficked.” 

"So we must recognise that while there are a large number of sex workers who are trafficked and exploited, there are also those who choose that work willingly for a number of reasons. Following that, it must also be recognised that sex work has evolved from simply loitering in the streets at a corner, waiting to be picked up, to the famous massage parlours, and even various online services. The pandemic has certainly contributed further to this digital shift, as workers scrambled to adapt to a no contact environment."

The statement highlights that there are a number of different reasons why individuals may chose sex work. “For some persons, be they cis- or trans-gendered, heterosexual or otherwise, sex work is a way to earn money or simply a job just like any other. Discrimination or lack of opportunities in employment, poverty, lack of access to affordable healthcare is some of the reasons why non-EU nationals, undocumented migrants, rejected asylum seekers, other migrants residing here, irregularly, and LGBTIQ persons might turn to sex work.”

The NGOs highlighted that within the LGBTIQ community alone, globally, sex work was and still is a profession trans women turn to due to discrimination in employment and costs of gender-affirming treatment, and they face harassment and violence for their gender identity. The statement highlight that they are not aware whether this is a reality in Malta, due to the various legal protections for LGBTIQ persons.

Why should sex workers be recognised as workers?

“If sex workers are recognised as workers, then they should be entitled to the same rights as any other person who works full-time; health, tax, national insurance etc. Bodily autonomy is inherent to this approach, to empower and destigmatise sex workers.”

The statement highlighted that now, sex work is criminalised while the buying of sex is not and the sex worker should not be treated like a criminal if they are there willingly, or forced.

“On the other hand, there are various reasons why a person would seek out a sex worker’s services, not just to exploit,” said the NGOs.

The statement said that the argument against decriminalising sex work and not criminalising the sex buyer has been that it will encourage pimps and traffickers to turn Malta into a sex tourism hub. “Criminalising buyers whilst decriminalising sex work will only force sex workers to work underground, opening them to further opportunities for violence and make them vulnerable to discrimination and abuse,” read the statement.

“Just like any reform affecting a group of people, it is important for those who will be affected by the reform to have a voice, to be empowered to speak up and contribute. The work of NGOs is crucial, and sheds light on the realities they face when working with sex workers who approach them for various reasons, but it is not the same as hearing it from the horse’s mouth. It would be an utmost disservice to sex workers to continue to stumble around trying to figure out what’s in their best interest without their own contribution.”



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