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Proposed rules for strip clubs: private rooms abolished, but naked dancers to be allowed

Under the new rules, private dancing rooms will no longer be allowed, which previously meant that customers could get private dancers but also negotiate prices for sexual favours – if tolerated on site

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
21 August 2017, 9:35am
Magistrate Ian Farrugia had declared that a topless dancer was not sufficiently “immoral or scandalous”, considering the location, time and age group of the people inside the clubs. Pictured: exterior of Steam club in Paceville
Magistrate Ian Farrugia had declared that a topless dancer was not sufficiently “immoral or scandalous”, considering the location, time and age group of the people inside the clubs. Pictured: exterior of Steam club in Paceville
Draft rules for Malta’s burgeoning strip-club industry will ban the use of private rooms and set different rules for employees to allow pole dancers only to be naked on stage.

The Maltese entertainment mecca, Paceville, underwent a radical change in recent years as various clubs died out and gave way to more so-called ‘gentlemen’s clubs’.

Women’s organisations have railed against the plans to give these clubs a regulated framework, although business representatives say the rules will give security to employees of an industry that critics say borders on prostitution.

Under the new rules, private dancing rooms will no longer be allowed, which previously meant that customers could get private dancers but also negotiate prices for sexual favours – if tolerated on site.

However, clubs will now get the green light to have naked dancers on stage, provided that hostesses and lap dancers are all clothed when entertaining clients.

A St Julian’s businessman said there were at least some eight operators involved in the business in Paceville, which necessitated some form of legal clarity on the way business was to be conducted.

MaltaToday has learnt that the new rules will also oblige employers to engage dancers and hostesses through employment agencies, either on a self-employed basis or on direct employment.

A code of conduct for both dancers and clients will be on display publicly, to outline exactly what dancers are offering and what clients should expect from the entertainment service.

There will also be restrictions on advertising outdoors, new zoning guidelines that could prevent such clubs from appearing within a certain distance of schools or places of worship, and also restrictions on club employees reeling in punters on the outside.

As things stand, some clubs deploy numerous women on the Paceville pavements to encourage clients to walk into the club. The new rules contemplate having just one representative at the door.

Malta’s first strip club, ‘Steam’, was opened by Paceville entrepreneur Frankie Grima in 2004. The establishment today belongs to the hotelier and Paceville mogul Hugo Chetcuti. Since then numerous other establishments have opened in the town.

Despite operating in a legal limbo, on 6 June, 2012, police raided Steam at 2:30am when police arrested dancers who at the time were giving private dances to clients. The prosecution charged a lap dancer with immoral acts after she was found with her breasts exposed, performing a lap dance on a client. Defence lawyer Joe Giglio had told the court at the time that the police could not impose their own morals on society.

Concurring, Magistrate Ian Farrugia had declared that a topless dancer was not sufficiently “immoral or scandalous”, considering the location, time and age group of the people inside the club. “It is not the competence of the court to decree if frequenting such places is good or not, that decision has to be faced by each individual according to their conscience,” he said.

News that the tourism ministry was drafting a set of rules to regulate the strip clubs led to criticism from women’s rights activists, with the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisations calling for gentlemen’s clubs to be banned.

The MCWO accused the minister of “taking sides” of club owners who were keen on keeping a distinction between so called ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and strip clubs. 

Chairperson Lorraine Spiteri said the branding of these clubs as “mere adult entertainment venue diverts attention from the fact that these aid the normalisation of prostitution and we should stop calling them gentlemen’s clubs, as there is nothing gentlemanly about them.”

Spiteri said strip clubs were providing an acceptable front to “commercial sex venues”, and said research showed all codes of conduct and rules for such venues had not stopped them being used as a prostitution and trafficking hub.

The criticism is in part informed by regular reports from the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report, which in 2016 insisted that Malta was a source and destination country for women and children subject to sex trafficking.

“Female sex trafficking victims primarily originate from China, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. During the reporting period, a Tunisian woman was subjected to sex trafficking in Malta. Women and children from Malta have also been subjected to sex trafficking within the country,” the report claims.

It outlined that women from southeast Asia working as domestic workers, Chinese nationals working in massage parlours, and women from Central and Eastern Europe working in nightclubs represented populations vulnerable to exploitation. 

It also said the Maltese government had investigated and prosecuted fewer trafficking cases, identified fewer trafficking victims, did not adequately fund anti-trafficking efforts, and did not conduct national awareness campaigns.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.