Most prostitutes are forced into sex work, human trafficking experts say

Experts working to assist women forced into the sex trade highlight inescapable link between human trafficking and prostitution

A number of experts spoke today at a conference on human trafficking, held at the University of Malta
A number of experts spoke today at a conference on human trafficking, held at the University of Malta

Most women do not engage in sex work out of choice, and human trafficking and prostitution are issues which are invariably linked, a number of experts in this area have said.

Anna Vella, management committee member at Dar Hosea, a drop-on centre for women in prostitution, said that women rarely, if ever, go into prostitution because they want to.

Vella - speaking at a conference on human trafficking organised by the Association for Equality (A4E), Dar Hosea, and the Centre for Labour Studies at the University of Malta – said that prostitutes, the overwhelming percentage of whom are women and girls, are either slowly groomed into sex ork, or else coerced into it.

Katrine Camilleri from JRS backed Vella thoughts, saying that coercion doesn't have to mean putting a gun to someone's head.

"There are also people who come to Malta to do a legal job, but end up being forced into prostitution – and they will tell you they have no choice. So although they came to Malta of their own free will, we need to look at the invisible chains which tie people to abuse – what free choice did they really have?," Camilleri said.

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Trafficking does not automatically mean cross-border travelling, Anna Borg from A4E said, but it involves the recruitment of persons into sexual exploitation, through violence, coercion, or making them work against their will.

“99% of human trafficking victims are women,” Borg said, “There are no current figures for Malta, but it is more common than we think. In the Netherlands, between 60% to 70% of women in prostitution are forced to do so by criminal gangs. This is demand driven – it is the money of the sex buyer which drives the traffickers.”

Demand “extremely high” in Malta

The local demand for prostitutes is “extremely high”, with new massage parlours and strip clubs opening around the island, Laura Dimitrijevic from the Women’s Right Foundation underlined.

“They are also working from flats, on the street, and online, through forums, websites and Facebook groups,” she said, describing how women who work with online escort sites receive 20 or more requests for sex from men a day.

The nationalities of prostitutes in Malta include Chinese, Moldovians, Ukranians, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Colombians, Thai, Nigerians and Maltese, with their ages being as young as 14 or 15, including a case of a 14-year-old girl who had been groomed into prostitution since age 12.

Prostitution in Malta is not illegal, but soliciting and loitering is. It is also illegal to detain someone against their will for prostitution (even if they initially gave their consent), to live off another person’s prostitution earnings, and to keep a brothel and take part in its management and the receiving of profits from it.

Normalising sex trade makes it grow

Journalist Julie Bindel, who interviewed 50 sex trade survivors for a book on the issue, cautioned against normalising the sex trade through legalisation or decriminalisation, saying that the experience of a multiple countries shows this can increase the problem.

“It does not surprise me that in countries such as New Zealand, or the Netherlands, brothels have multiplied. There are more women on the street, and sex buyers have even more arrogance and a greater sense of entitlement,” she said.

Calling the legalisation of sex work a “disaster”, Bindel underlined how while the Netherlands – which lifted the brothels’ ban in 2000 – had meant to eliminate pimps, illegal drugs, under-age prostitution, and to reduce the rate of HIV, the opposite had happened.

“The Dutch window brothels are a disgrace to humanity. Do you think the women from Romania and other countries suddenly decide to work in these windows? It’s very rare to see a Dutch woman doing that work,” she remarked, ”What happened was that the main brothels are now under the control of a handful of pimps who dub themselves ‘managers’.”

Nordic model preferable to New Zealand one

Bindel said that if one looked at the different models for dealing with prostitution, the Nordic model was clearly superior to the one adopted by New Zealand.

The Nordic model, which originated is Sweden, decriminalises all those who are prostituted, provides support services to help them exit, and makes buying people for sex a criminal offence, in order to reduce the demand that drives sex trafficking.

Bindel emphasised that decriminalisation would not tackle the problem for women. “We have to get women out of the sex trade and stop the consumers from being entitled,” she said.

No person who is selling sex should be criminalised – it is an abhorrence that we should criminalise someone who is being victimised and prostituted – doing this and ignoring the demand is an international disgrace – this has to stop,” Bindel added.

A4E representative Marie Therese Gatt also argued for the Nordic model, stressing how the situation in New Zealand had seriously deteriorated after prostitution was fully decriminalised.

“In New Zealand, they managed to make prostitution a prolific legal business. But after five years, an 11-member review board found the situation was actually made worse, and now it’s deteriorated even further,” she said.

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