The majority of women are coerced into prostitution, social worker

Dar Hosea social woker: ‘We know first hand that the vast majority of women do not freely involve themselves in prostitution; rather they are either coerced or forced into it’

In 2019, 71 women from a variety of age groups sought shelter at Dar Hosea. Most, but not all the women were Maltese
In 2019, 71 women from a variety of age groups sought shelter at Dar Hosea. Most, but not all the women were Maltese

Charity workers who have spent years helping vulnerable women who ended up as prostitutes have voiced concern at proposed reforms that could decriminalise prostitution or normalise sex buying.

Dar Hosea, a shelter which depends on unconditional anonymity to help victims of prostitution escape from pimps, said any law that legitimises sex work and the buying of sex would only benefit pumps and punters and put Malta on course to become a sex tourism hub.

“The vast majority of women do not freely involve themselves in prostitution. They are either coerced or forced into it,” a social worker from Dar Hosea told MaltaToday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the social worker emphasised Dar Hosea’s concerns about a proposed set of rules that could treat prostitution as the choice of women with full agency, ignoring the reality of violence and control.

“Through our academic, professional and hands-on experience with our service users, we know first hand that the vast majority of women do not freely involve themselves in prostitution; rather they are either coerced or forced into it.”

This meant that if the involvement of their pimps and punters is acknowledged and encouraged by the government through legalisation, the control and appalling abuse of women in prostitution would have been given the green light and enabled, she said.

“With the proposed reform, there is a greater likelihood of exacerbating the current sex trafficking epidemic, increasing the demand of the industry for vulnerable persons and promoting the culture of sex tourism.”

She said Dar Hosea’s concerns grow “exponentially” when looking at the outcomes of other countries that have taken similar approaches proposed by the government. “Only pimps and punters benefitted… having negative and severe implications on persons involved in prostitution.”

For the past six years Dar Hosea has been at the frontline of informing and protecting vulnerable women involved in prostitution. “We come face-to-face with the harsh experiences of persons in prostitution, and this is why we are convinced that whilst the reform should continue protecting women in prostitution, the purchasing of the ‘service’ should not be ‘decriminalised’, so as to further safeguard the victims from further horrendous realities.”

In 2019, 71 women from a variety of age groups sought shelter at Dar Hosea. Most, but not all the women were Maltese.

“Vulnerable women are introduced to our services through self-referrals or referrals by other agencies and NGOs. Once in contact with us, we usually support them through immediate help, mainly through the use of the basic facilities – showers, warm meals, clothes, dental and medical appointments – at our premises,” she said.

Support over the long-term includes therapeutic support by professionals, such as social workers and counsellors, who together with the staff and volunteers, draw up a care plan for each service user, ensuring a safe and supportive environment.

“Our service users tell us how they constantly experience episodes of threats and violence. Their vulnerability, which stems from severely traumatic past childhood experiences, substance misuse, mental health, and poverty among other challenging life experiences, place them in desperate situations where they are subjected to further abuse by their partners, pimps and punters,” she said.

“Our service users end up in a vicious cycle as they become dependent on abusive situations with no hope of freedom, characterised by lack of self-worth and dignity to overcome their manipulation.”

Dar Hosea does not primarily seek to encourage women to leave prostitution; rather, its main aim is to empower them to embrace their own being with dignity and respect, away from hardships and abuse. “We adopt a professional approach through a non-judgemental and loving attitude,” the social worker said.

Dar Hosea is the only such home in Malta that provides prostitutes with shelter and professional support, under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity. Vulnerable women are welcomed at Dar Hosea in an environment of confidentiality, where they can be safe. Women are free to stay there during the day, and can find help with professional advice, sex education, medical tests, and emotional support. Someone will also accompany them to hospital visits, court hearings, or help them to find employment, as well as support them when it comes to relationships with their relatives.

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