The problem with massage parlours

Many out there might be one massage away from endangering their physical wellbeing and health. The preservation of health is easier than the cure of the disease

Regulations are necessary to keep women who work in the sex trade safe
Regulations are necessary to keep women who work in the sex trade safe

Up until 2016, Malta had close to 200 licensed massage parlours. Thereafter, the government lifted the requirement for a licence to run these establishments. Last month, PN MP Graziella Attard Previ raised the same issue that the PN had already raised before, namely that the authorities should no longer turn a blind eye to the countless “massage parlours,” which were clearly acting as a front for prostitution.

From whatever angle one looks at the issue, logic dictates that, indeed, it is about time once more to have a proper legislative framework in place to regulate massage parlours.

In December 2021, Assistant Commissioner Dennis Theuma expressed the opinion that massage parlours should be regulated, both in the interest of clients and even more in the interest of workers, who can easily end up being victims. He statement was premised on findings from police investigations on cases of human trafficking.

Sexual exploitation seems to be rife in Malta and is often the case in massage parlours. Statistically, it should be an undeniable fact that massage parlours throughout Malta are being used for prostitution and human trafficking. In 2019, one in 10 male visitors to a Maltese GU clinic admitted to having had unprotected sex in a massage parlour, with men over 50 being the most common age group, according to statistics from Mater Dei Hospital.

Incredibly, at the time, Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia told parliament that there were no reports of massage parlours being used as brothels.

Ads for massage parlours are imploding on social media, with displays of questionable and censored erotic scenes of women ostensibly originating from Eastern Europe. It resulted that the few people charged with human trafficking offences were openly running massage parlours in Malta. It is estimated that over €16 million a year is being generated from illicit services.

Malta has the second-highest rate of syphilis in Europe, with cases continuing to increase year by year. In addition to passing these diseases on to their wives and partners, men who have unprotected sex with prostitutes may also be exposing their loved ones to a higher risk of cervical cancer through one of the most commonly contracted STDs, human papillomavirus (HPV), which can develop into cancer in women.

The only, but ineffective, restriction on massage parlours was simply that, since 2019, they can only be opened in recreational areas that are classified as commercial centres in towns. This change came into effect after a regulation was introduced that massage parlours should not be considered like any other retail outlet and need to apply specifically for a permit as a massage parlour. Massage parlours were sprouting up all over the place and, in some cases, even right next door to people’s homes.

Just take a tour around the country, and you will notice that we have as many massage parlours as we have pastizzi shops. Most of the individuals who work in these parlours are foreign women who almost always have men as customers, a clear confirmation that these are indeed brothels.

People rightly have negative perceptions of massage parlours since they are not operating within the bounds of any law or regulation. One of the key factors that should contribute to the legality of massage parlours is regulation and licensing.

In jurisdictions abroad where such parlours are legal, massage requires licensed-order practice. This involves completing a certain number of training hours, passing an exam and adhering to a code of ethics. By obtaining the necessary licences, massage therapists can legally provide their services in massage parlours. This includes adhering to zoning laws, building codes and business licensing requirements. By operating in accordance with these laws, massage parlours can establish themselves as legitimate businesses within their communities.

This clearly strengthens the case for regulating massage parlours in Malta. Regulations are necessary to keep women who work in the sex trade safe. As a start, I would like to see cameras in massage parlours and independent security staff to keep women safe. Of course, film footage should, in itself, be regulated by personal data and privacy legislation and only used for criminal investigation purposes.

The difficult and dangerous nature of sex work makes it important to have some oversight. There's a lot of mental health and addiction concerns, and people are doing a lot of survival sex. While it is legal to sell sex, it is illegal to purchase it, and women are often forgotten and ought to be protected.

The stigma has fallen on the women; we don't talk about the purchasers; we don't even talk about the traffickers or the pimps. The stigma has solely fallen on women. They're women, and they matter in our community. They deserve our protection, and we should not turn our heads and walk away and forget about them.

In light of all this, one legitimately asks whether the health authorities conduct regular inspections of these premises.

The massage parlour business is risky for both customers and employees. Most customers are ignorant about their operation, products and general appearance. This increases the chances of fake products being used without the customer’s knowledge. It is hard for customers to distinguish genuine massage products from fake ones.

In the absence of a regulatory body, filing a lawsuit will be hard.

Many out there might be one massage away from endangering their physical wellbeing and health. The preservation of health is easier than the cure of the disease.