A Chinese masseuse, who travelled to Malta to be employed in a massage parlour, described in court today how she was forced into prostitution instead.

The woman gave evidence in proceedings against a couple facing human trafficking charges.

She testified via video conference in the case against Winston Joseph Gera, 45, and his Chinese partner Zhang Tianxia, 35, of St Julian’s, who last week were arraigned over human trafficking charges. The two were also charged with having forced two female employees into prostitution, whilst keeping a brothel and living off the earnings of prostitution.

Mr Gera alone was charged with having stolen the mobile phone of one of the alleged victims, besides keeping employers without necessary work and residential permits.

Today’s witness, a qualified masseuse, explained how what had originally been a job offer in the massage industry, gradually turned out to be a harrowing experience when her employers forcing her to render sexual services to clients.

She said she paid €7640 for a ticket to Malta. All went well for the first 20 days following her arrival in August, when she was met by the accused and another couple at the airport. The owner’s girlfriend had instructed her not to contact anyone, telling her ‘now you are employed by me’ and even keeping the woman’s passport.

The new-arrival’s experience at the St Julian’s massage shop soon turned sour when her employer’s girlfriend, the co-accused, threatened her with dismissal unless she gave in to certain customers who demanded additional services of a sexual kind. 

Having turned down the advances of one particular male client, the woman said she was forced to favour the man when he returned on a second visit. Mr Gera’s girlfriend had warned her that unless she complied, and if she left the massage room before half an hour, she would have to foot the expense.

On that occasion, the woman said she was sexually abused by the man, and left the room  half-choked and bruised. She was dissuaded from calling the police by the owner’s girlfriend who said that such a move could possibly place their business at risk on account of certain tax issues.

The witness explained how, upon her arrival in Malta, she had been accompanied by the accused on a shopping expedition to replace her wardrobe, declared unsuitable for her work at the parlour.  The couple fitted her with “hot and sexy clothes” which she was to wear at work.

Regarding living conditions, the woman explained how she paid €150 monthly for living in the massage room, sometimes sleeping on the floor, making use of a bathroom where clients sometimes showered. She was allowed only one meal a day.

Working on a seven-day week, from 9am to 10pm with no break, the masseuse said she charged €25 to €30 for a normal massage, keeping only €5 to herself and getting no wage. Out of these earnings she forked out rent and food expenses.

The woman also had to pay €481 for Visa card expenses and a blood test which her employers insisted upon.

On one occasion, she said she was robbed of her money by her employer’s girlfriend who had told her “What you earned belongs to me, I gave you the job and I can kick you out.”

When the situation became unbearable, she finally used her translation function on her phone to communicate her plight to a male customer who advised her to take the matter to the police.

Obtaining the number of an interpreter from the Chinese Embassy, she was one evening accompanied by clients to an Italian restaurant where she met this interpreter who later assisted her in filing a police report.

Inspectors John Spiteri and Joseph Busuttil prosecuted.
Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Yanika Vidal were defence counsel.
Lawyers Lara Dimitrijevic and Stephanie Caruana appeared parte civile.


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