[WATCH] Prostitutes will no longer be prosecuted under proposed sex work laws

Government announces plans to decriminalise prostitution and introduce clear regulations for gentleman's clubs and massage parlours 

A public consultation on a number of reforms related to human trafficking and prostitution were announced on Tuesday
A public consultation on a number of reforms related to human trafficking and prostitution were announced on Tuesday

The government has launched a public consultation on a reform which aims to develop a national strategy against human trafficking while addressing reforms on laws and policies related to prostitution.

“The priority of this reform is to protect vulnerable people and victims from exploitation,” Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli said as she listed the proposal being put forward as part of the reform.

“The change in mentality the government is thinking of is a progressive and revolutionary one. We are saying that the system must stop criminalising vulnerable people who, for one reason or another, might have found themselves with no option other than prostitution,” Farrugia Portelli said.

This, she emphasised, in no way meant that the government would be legalising brothels, but rather that the state would be setting up structures to help prostitutes rather than prosecute or jail them.

“We must give these individuals – people in need of empowerment – other options,” said said.

With this in mind, she said that government was proposing the establishment of a state-run programme led by professionals to help those who wanted to leave the industry.

A second proposal, she said, was the implementation of a system that allowed those with a criminal record linked with prostitution to clean their criminal record and be able to start a new life.

The changes being proposed, Farrugia Portelli said, were intended to remove the stigma associated with prostitution.

“If we are going to keep threating these people as criminals, we are going to make it impossible for them to seek help, report the people exploiting them, seek medical services or enter the regular job market.”

Farrugia Portelli emphasised that the reforms were being proposed together with addition reforms on human trafficking, an area she said had been neglected for many years.

 “We have left people among us to suffer, and this reform needs to not only find the tools to fight this industry, but to prevent it,” she said.

She said that her secretariat would continue meeting and hearing out stakeholders with the aim of having a national strategy on human trafficking in place by next year.

One of the proposed reforms includes the streamlining of referral mechanisms, which will see a multi-disciplinary approach for the identification of human trafficking victims.

Furthermore, the identified victims will be provided with a coordinated approach to help them in undergoing respectful medical and psychological examinations, applying for residence documents and in seeking alternative legal employment.

“We must help the victims in not only escaping the unforgiving situations they are in, but also in reintegrating back into society,” Farrugia Portelli said.

The reform will also be looking into strengthening the investigation into human trafficking while also facilitating access to compensation and legal support.

Regulation of massage parlours

The reform will also be looking to have clear rules on “so-called gentleman’s clubs”.

“These changes, shouldn’t, and won’t simply be cosmetic changes on how we refer to these places. What was acceptable before might no longer be acceptable today, and the first decisions we need to take are those that look after the interest of those that work in these establishments,” Farrugia Portelli said.

She said that both the owners of such establishments and their patrons needed to know exact what is and isn’t acceptable.

Moreover, the junior minister said that government also wanted massage parlours, a considerable number of which are known to offer sexual services, to be regulated.

“Government is not considering legislation that will allow these places to be used as brothels,” she said, adding that the measure was intended to protect the interests of those who were qualified to offer legitimate massage services.

She said government would be proposing that only those who are qualified be allowed to operate in the sector.

The government will also be looking to regulate temping agencies, which offer to find temporary employment to clients. Unlike recruitment agencies, Farrugia Portelli said that these agencies were not government by any existing legislation.

She said that a discussion needed to be had on whether the existing legal framework was protecting workers and whether there needed to be more obligations on those running such agencies.

Farrugia Portelli said that all the proposals put forward merited a serious and open discussion that was free of partisan politics.