The pandemic has led to an increase in street prostitution involving migrant women, according to Lara Dimitrijevic, director of the Women’s Rights Foundation.

These women are being forced into prostitution, Dimitrijevic, a lawyer who represented two human trafficking victims in a recent court case involving massage parlours, said.

“The demand for paid sex is still there. Over the past few months, we have seen fewer cases of trafficking in massage parlours as they were forced to close due to the pandemic. But we’ve seen an increase in street prostitution, especially migrant women forced into it,” she said.

Accompanied by an official from the Chinese embassy, the two victims she represented in court had filed a police report after they were brought to Malta in 2017 to work as massage therapists.

They had passports taken from them on arrival.

It emerged in court they were forced to live in primitive conditions in the same parlours where they worked.

They worked for very long hours every day without days off or leave and were forced to give sexual favours to clients.

Earlier this month, Winston-Joseph Gera and his partner, Zhang Tianxia were jailed for seven years after being convicted of human trafficking, exploiting the two women and keeping them in conditions described by a magistrate as approaching ‘refined slavery’.

This case was in no way a one-off, Dimitrijevic said. Just last year, a Hungarian couple – Robert Attila Majlat and Attilane Majlat – were jailed for 12 years after being convicted of trafficking women for prostitution purposes.

This year, due to the pandemic and restrictions put in force by the health authorities, the abuse within massage parlours was not visible, Dimitrijevic said. However, the foundation, an NGO committed to informing, educating and empowering women on their legal rights, was seeing more cases of street prostitution with a particular increase in migrant women, she added.

“These women are being forced into prostitution. They are being trafficked. They are vulnerable since, in some cases, there is a language barrier, they are not aware of their surroundings and do not know how to seek help,” she said.

These cases were often referred to the NGO by the police during investigations.

Dimitrijevic said there was a need to map out the various realities faced by victims in Malta and then take the discussion forward.

“Not all women who are in prostitution do so by ‘choice’. Some are trafficked and forced into it. We cannot address this with one measure,” she said.

Last month, Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar said that a prostitution reform technical committee was drafting a legal framework that aimed to decriminalise sex work. 

The consultation period is over and the committee’s report is being finalised before being presented to cabinet.

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