Updated 8.11pm

No one on the committee that is drafting the law on sex work has any expertise in the matter, according to a group of over 40 entities.

The coalition on human trafficking and prostitution was reacting to comments by Parliamentary Secretary for Equality Rosianne Cutajar to The Malta Independent.

According to Cutajar, the prostitution reform technical committee is in the initial stages of drafting a legal framework that aims to decriminalise sex work. The consultation period is over and the report is in the process of being finalised and presented to Cabinet.

"The so-called committee which is proposing the legalisation of prostitution is devoid of experts in this specific area," the coalition said on Monday.

It is urging the government to not separate the issues of prostitution and human trafficking, while "seriously consider" the implications and repercussions of the proposals by the current technical committee.

"[The committee] has completely disregarded a huge coalition of national and international organisations - including grassroots women’s organisations, professionals, and experts - who have worked with people in prostitution and those who have been trafficked for years."

The group insisted that data from other countries "unequivocally" demonstrated that that the committee’s proposed approach to the decriminalisation of sex work will be "a gift to pimps and traffickers" and will have a "devastating effect" on vulnerable people.  

The proposal naively assumes that prostitutes have the agency to choose, yet it is well known that the vast majority of people in prostitution are either coerced or enslaved by the industry, it said in a statement.

"Legalising prostitution will further encourage the exploitation and abuse towards individuals caught up in prostitution while facilitating the control that pimps, traffickers, and johns will have on those prostituted."

The recommendation to legalise prostitution will turn Malta into "a hub of sex tourism", it added. This approach normalised prostitution and trafficking, with the blessing of the state taking on the role of the pimp, it said.

This rushed proposal raised more questions than answers, it said: Where will activities related to prostitution be permitted? On what basis have the recommendations of the technical committee been made? Are they based on empirical research and the well-being of our society? Is it suggesting that the state assumes the pimp’s role of protecting and taxing prostitutes?

The coalition core group includes president emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, academic and women’s rights activist Anna Borg, international human rights land justice reform practitioner Helen Burrows, academic and social activist Angele Deguara, lawyer and women's rights activist Lara Dimitrijevic, women’s rights activist and founder of the Women for Women community Francesca Fenech Conti, researcher and women’s rights activist Marietherese Gatt , Dar Hosea researcher Romina Gatt Lopez and Dar Hosea manager Anna Vella.

The following organisations were involved in the submissions made during the consultation process: Association for Equality, Attard Ladies Cultural Club, Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija, Caritas, Dar Hosea, Dar Merhba Bik, Department of Gender Studies (UOM), Department of Social Policy and Social Work, emPOWer Platfor, Business and Professional Women (Valletta) Malta, Foundation for Women Entrepreneurs Malta, Malta Association of Women in Business, Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, National Centre for Family Research, National Observatory for Living with Dignity, National Institute for Childhood,  Malta Girl Guides, Moviment Nisa’ Partit Nazzjonalista, National Council of Women, Soroptimists International Malta, Young Women’s Christian Association, Faculty of Theology (UOM), Fondazzjoni Sebh, Ghaqda Studenti tat-Teologija, Good Shepherd Sisters, Justice and Peace Commission, Life Network Malta, Local Councils’ Association, Malta Association of Public Health Medicine, Malta Confederation of Women's Organisations, Malta Medical Students Association, Malta Midwives Association, Maltese Association of Social Workers, Men Against Violence, OASI Foundation, Saint Jeanne Antide Foundation, Solidarity Overseas Service (SOS) Malta, University Chaplaincy, Victim Support Malta, Women's Rights Foundation, Wome's Study Group, Coalition Abolition Prostitution International, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, European Network of Migrant Women, European Women's Lobby and Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment International.

Consultation was a farce - PN

The PN has called on Minister Edward Zammit Lewis to use his better judgment, stop the process and listen to those who have women's dignity at heart.

Cutajar's comments on Sunday are proof that the consultation about the regularisation of sex work was a "farce" by PL to turn prostitution into an activity through which women will now be officially exploited with the government's blessing, the party said in a statement. 

'Reconsider' - women's lobby

In a statement at 8pm on Monday evening, the Malta Women’s Lobby, called upon the government to seriously reconsider the proposal.

What the technical committee is suggesting strongly goes against gender equality principles, the lobby said.

With the decriminalisation of prostitution, the government would be sending out a clear message to society, that human bodies (mostly those of women and girls) are viewed as commodities.

"Such laws push the idea that human bodies may be sold and exchanged for an invisible price tag and can be treated as sex objects If legalisation of prostitution occurs, the government would be giving the green light to those who abuse, exploit, and control prostituted individuals," the lobby said.

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