FIAU: Limited reports of sexual exploitation in massage parlours

New report by the FIAU sheds light on Malta’s massage parlours and potential human trafficking in the sector

Massage parlours are the subject of a new strategic analysis report by the FIAU
Massage parlours are the subject of a new strategic analysis report by the FIAU

Very few reports have been filed with the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) concerning sexual exploitation or human trafficking in the massage parlour sector.

In a new strategic analysis report, the FIAU said it faced significant challenges in obtaining a comprehensive list of massage parlours operating in Malta, relying instead on various data sources to conduct its analysis. In 2016, the government removed the need for a specific license to operate a massage parlour.

This limitation impacted the depth of the investigation into potential human trafficking and sexual exploitation within the sector.

The FIAU's research focused on female massage therapists, revealing a decline in registered employment of women in this field over recent years. The demographic breakdown showed that 49% of these workers were European (including Maltese nationals), while 47% were Asian, predominantly Chinese and Thai.

Only 34% of the total population were Maltese, with some individuals holding dual Chinese-Maltese citizenship.

Age-wise, the majority of these women were between 25 and 42 years old when registered for employment in the sector.

Despite the high-risk nature of the industry, the FIAU found a very limited number of reports concerning sexual exploitation or human trafficking. This scarcity of reports may be attributed to the minimal financial footprint of the suspected victims.

In cases where there were suspicions, the primary red flag was often unexplained wealth linked to the massage parlour owners or their associates. Some reports highlighted Asian individuals making substantial cash deposits inconsistent with their profiles, which were subsequently transferred abroad.

These individuals, often referred to as 'madams' or 'mamasans,' are believed to manage the parlours.

St. Paul’s Bay emerged as the most common residential address for individuals associated with numerous red flags, as well as the most popular business registration locality for employers. However, this registration address does not necessarily indicate the actual operational address of the parlour.

An examination of IBAN accounts through the Centralised Bank Account Register (CBAR) revealed that Asian nationals in the dataset were less likely to hold accounts compared to their Maltese counterparts. Specifically, while over 71% of Maltese nationals held accounts, only 17% of Chinese and 35% of Thai individuals did.