MEPs’ abolitionist line toasted by campaigners against sex buying

Malta Women’s Lobby says European Parliament line on abolitionist stance towards sex buying must be taken up by Maltese government

The Malta Women’s Lobby has called on the Maltese government to adopt an abolitionist stance on sex buying, in line with the Equality Model implemented in Sweden. 

The MWL, whose organisations have campaigned against attempts at the legalisation of prostitution in Malta, welcomed a report on the cross-border implications of prostitution in the EU upheld by MEPs with 234 votes in favour from both the major centre-right and centre-left blocs. 

The main groups opposing the report were liberals Renew and the European Green Party. Malta’s Labour MEPs Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar abstained. 

The report by German MEP Maria Noichl (S&D) underlines that the lack of common rules on prostitution across the EY allows for the creation of more victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, making for fertile operating ground for organised crime. 

“Member states should assess existing legislation to avoid any loopholes that allow criminals to act with impunity, while the Commission should develop common EU guidelines guaranteeing the fundamental rights of people in prostitution,” Noichl said. 

The MWL said MEPs had delivered a powerful message by voting in favour of a report for a regulation of prostitution in the EU. 

“With this vote, MEPs gave a strong message that prostitution is a form of violence which should be curbed. This is a milestone for women in Europe who account for 90% of those caught in prostitution and the majority of those trafficked for sexual exploitation,” the MWL said. 

The vote confirms the abolitionist – or as referred to in Scandinavia, the Nordic or Equality model – stance of the European Parliament towards prostitution. 

The MWL said the Nordic model was the most efficient model in reducing demand for prostitution and related human trafficking. 

The Noichl report encourages member states to adopt an abolitionist perspective that decriminalises persons in prostitution, but criminalises “sex-buyers” and all exploitative third parties.  

“Tackling the root causes of prostitution, the report particularly insists on the importance of guaranteeing health, social, educational, and economic support to persons in prostitution as poverty and social exclusion are often at the base of this form of sexual exploitation. The abolitionist approach aims at guaranteeing survivors of prostitution tools to take their power, agency and autonomy back, but it puts the burden of stigmatisation and shame on so-called ‘sex-buyers’ who will be criminalised,” the MWL said. 

“Studies undertaken in Sweden demonstrated a positive and significant shift in attitudes among boys and men after Sweden adopted the Equality Model. In the same vein, harmful stereotypes to be found in pornographic content and their impact on young people’s sexuality were also denounced in the report.”  

The Noichl report says that reducing demand is key to prevent and reduce human trafficking but that this must be done without harming those in prostitution. MEPs called on member states to take urgent measures to tackle online advertisement that directly or indirectly encourages prostitution or seeks to attract buyers. 

MEPs also demand support for and cooperation with the police and other law enforcement agencies, social and medical services and NGOs to address trafficking and sexual exploitation and protect women in prostitution. 

The worsening social and economic situation due to COVID-19, and the current energy and cost-of-living crisis have increased all forms of abuse and violence against women, MEPs said, including sexual exploitation, with many women in vulnerable situations being driven into poverty and social exclusion. 

MEPs called for full access to high-quality health and social services as well as to the justice system and pathways out of prostitution. People in prostitution face the constant threat of police and judicial persecution, and are marginalised and stigmatised, the report notes, which often hinders their ability to seek justice.  

“Parliament is giving a voice to people, and especially women, who have traditionally been overlooked, marginalised and stigmatised in our societies,” MEP Maria Noichl said. “We are standing by those who have warned for a long time about the reality of prostitution. This report outlines the reasons why the big majority of people end up in prostitution, and it highlights the way forward: create exit programmes and alternatives, eradicate poverty and social exclusion, dismantle stereotypes and inequalities, and reduce demand by tackling the buyers.” 

MWL campaign 

The MWL leads a concerted opposition by 46 organisations against a tentative legalisation of prostitution and sex work in Malta. 

“Fully decriminalising legislation supports, to a limited extent, a very small minority of individuals, whilst simultaneously exploiting the majority of victims. It also opens Malta’s doors to sex tourism and human trafficking, enabling such criminal behaviour, and exposing Maltese and foreign women and girls to unprecedented levels of risk and harm,” the MWL said in an open letter back in January 2023 to parliamentary secretary for reforms and equality Rebecca Buttigieg. 

The MWL says the prevention of exploitation can only be effective if the buying of sex is outlawed and penalised accordingly. “With the exception of two organisations – which are not experts on the subject – all 46 organisations which participated in the consultation process and eventually formed part of the Coalition, strongly advised that to promote gender equality and curb sex trafficking, the new legislation must limit, not expand, demand for sexual services.” 

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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