As the country debates the decriminalisation of prostitution, a drop-in centre works behind the scenes with women in prostitution who have no one to turn to. Rita Bonello, manager of Dar Hosea, spoke to Sarah Carabott.

None of the women who have crossed paths with Rita Bonello ever wanted to remain in prostitution, contrary to common perception that such a practice is taken up willingly.

“The women there tell us they feel like toilets: used and then flushed. Although I don’t want to make a sweeping statement, because there could be a handful who took it up voluntarily, I have never met anyone who went into prostitution out of their own will,” Ms Bonello told this newspaper.

“And all the women I met want to get out of prostitution.”

Dar Hosea is a walk-in centre for women in prostitution, whose location is not being disclosed to safeguard the clients and the staff.

Launched by the Sisters of Charity, run by the Friends of Thouret Association and managed by Ms Bonello, the aim is not to get women out of prostitution but to show them an alternative reality.

“We show them there is someone who cares about and loves them without asking for anything in return and without judging them. We accept them as they are,” Ms Bonello said.

Eventually, the women realise that money is not everything and that there truly is someone who cares for them.

Their reality was completely different and they found it strange that other women had one steady partner, for example.

But, by time, they would start growing fonder of the alternative lifestyle, Ms Bonello added.

For the staff at Dar Hosea nothing can be more satisfying then knowing the women they helped find their own way out of prostitution. A woman was reunited with her parents after eight years and is now living with them together with her son. She also found a regular full-time job.

“What more do we want? That makes it all worth it, risks and all,” Ms Bonello noted.

Some would have lost touch with relatives and end up homeless even after stealing from them to keep up their drug habit.

Research showed that women ended up in prostitution because they had no other alternative.

We show them there is someone who cares about and loves them without asking for anything in return

Several would have experienced abuse at a young age and, to forget the experience, they would turn to drugs. To sustain the drug habit they would then resort to prostitution, she continued.

Yet, the money they made was either used to buy drugs or pocketed by pimps.

Ms Bonello spoke of common patterns where women first entered into a relationship with a man who spoiled them but after a couple of weeks he would start showing his true colours.

“They tell the women they have run out of money and turn them into sex slaves. Some are beaten up because they do not have any clients. These women would have been tricked into believing their pimp is their boyfriend who would have more than one woman working for him,” she said.

Sometimes, a woman turns up at Dar Hosea after three days without food.

Most of the time they had nowhere to shower as they were homeless and that was why they would be caught loitering, which was illegal, Ms Bonello notes, adding that some even slept in cars or garages.

At Dar Hosea, the staff ensure a sense of belonging for the women who go there and, so, they can feel at home.

Some of the women take care of the house chores while volunteers provide professional counselling and social work, health services, including medical tests, and notarial and legal advice.

Dar Hosea initially used to open its doors twice a week, hosting four to five women a day.

However, as the number of those dropping in grew, the centre moved to larger premises and is now open every week day and, when there are enough volunteers, also on Saturdays.

Some 10 women call every day and they can have breakfast, shower, do the laundry, crafts and go on outings.

There is also an outreach service for women in prostitution who have children and cannot make it to the house.

Dar Hosea is run with the help of 26 volunteers but more helpers are needed to be able to remain open on Saturdays too.

Ms Bonello can be contacted via or by phoning 9950 8954.

The women’s experiences

“These women are sometimes so kind that they put us to shame”

Janet*, born to a woman in prostitution, lived in a cellar with her siblings and mother.

Unfortunately, the girl seemed to always get the wrong end of the stick and her sleeping place was right beneath the grate, making her prone to car exhaust, rainwater run-off and rubbish.

She eventually ran away from home and met her biological father just a day before he passed away. Janet spent the night sleeping with men to be able to pay for his funeral.

“How is it possible that even at her death, she didn’t find anyone?”

Maria*, aged over 60, used to spend every waking hour at Dar Hosea and she would tell the staff she had no one else in the world.

Abandoned by her father at a young age, Maria was abused by her elder brother. She would run away from home only to be returned by the police until one day she left for good.

She slept in garages and pubs, where she was introduced to alcohol and eventually took the prostitution route. Along the way, she had three kids who were placed in children’s homes.

One day she was unwell and did not turn up at Dar Hosea.

Rita Bonello contacted her at her house (consisting of one room) and realised she was unwell, so she called an ambulance. After two days in intensive care, Maria passed away from lung complications.

Ms Bonello was shocked when she could not find any relatives who wanted to make the funeral arrangements, so Dar Hosea had to step in.

“Even though I saw her every day, that is when it dawned on me that she literally had no one.

“It was a cold shower for us… and that is why what we do is important. We might not be doing it with hundreds of people but I think we are doing the little things that matter.”

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