Activists call for the buying of sex to be criminalised

35 organisations say prostitutes should be helped to exit the lifetsyle, while their clients should be prosecuted

Decriminalising prostitution alone is not enough, according to 35 organisations
Decriminalising prostitution alone is not enough, according to 35 organisations

The government should criminalise the purchase of sex, a coalition of academics, lawyers, and people who work directly with prostitutes and trafficked persons have argued. 

The proposal is one of several others put forward by 35 organisations that include women’s groups and medical associations, in response to a public consultation on changes to Malta's prostitution laws. The government has floated the idea of decriminalising prostitution but has stopped short of suggesting some form of legalisation.

The joint initiative was also endorsed by five international organisations.

Despite praising the government for tackling such a difficult and multi-faceted issue, the coalition said that decriminalisation of prostitution alone was not enough. 

The groups agreed with decriminalisation of prostitution, adding that persons caught in prostitution should not be criminalised or victimised further “for the abuse they have endured.”

But they also called for the purchasing of sex to be criminalised. This would make clients of prostitutes liable to criminal proceedings. The groups said the buying of human beings for sex was “exploitative and harmful.”

“The reality of prostitution is not 42 million ‘happy hookers’ making a free choice and earning good money. It is millions of psychologically unwell, physically trapped and injured women – nearly all of whom want to leave, but cannot find a way out,” the groups argued said. 

The coalition said that evidence from other countries showed that when prostitution alone was decriminalised and subsequently regulated, it became mainstream, and flourished. Decriminalisation alone increased the demand.

“When demand cannot be met locally – which has occurred in several instances – traffickers ‘procure’ women and girls from other locations,” the groups said.

The proposal also called for the creation of an exit service, which would offer a comprehensive range of legal, health, financial, educational and social services to support those within prostitution and enable them to recover from their abuse and build a life outside of it.

The coalition also said that clear rules for massage parlours must also be established so these are not used as a guise for prostitution.

The coalition also proposed more radical measures recommending the permanent closure of strip clubs to prevent establishments continuing to sell sex and traffic women.

However, in terms of regulation, it recommended increasing the entry age to these clubs to 21, private rooms be prohibited, advertising be limited, and a tax on all drinks consumed in such clubs be introduced.

The coalition highlighted that in order for the proposal to be effective it would need to be implemented as a whole.

“Decriminalising those who are prostituted, without making the buying of sex a criminal offence, would only open up the sex industry and increase trafficking.”

It said that these changes required a zero-tolerance approach by the police, as well as the courts, along with a specialist investigatory capacity to prosecute offenders.

The coalition said that increasingly, governments are changing the way they consider prostitution. “They see it as a form of slavery incompatible with human dignity and fundamental human rights.” It said that  Sweden, Ireland, France, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, and Israel have adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards the buying of sex because they consider it exploitative and harmful, and this has inturn decreased the number of trafficked women.

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