Decriminalising prostitution will be a key pillar of an upcoming legal reform, Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia said on Tuesday.

While authorities have "no intention" of legalising brothels, the intention is to ensure that sex workers who have no choice but to turn to prostitution are not prosecuted, she said. 

A public consultation document does not enter into specifics of how a reformed sex work system would work, but notes that decriminalising sex workers is a "key point of convergence" among all the legal frameworks being proposed. 

The public consultation period will end in October. After that, a Bill detailing the reform must be debated and passed through parliament before it becomes law. 

RELATED STORIES

The consultation document seeks to open a public discussion on how to tackle human trafficking issues as well as black market sex work in so-called gentleman’s clubs and massage parlours. 

Licensed massage parlours?

It suggests requiring massage parlours to have a specific license to operate. 

Massage parlours have come under scrutiny over concerns about exploitative practices. According to the document, a number of court cases in recent years have confirmed that some are hiring women and then subjecting them to exploitation or sex work. 

A licensing regime, the document reads, could address and end those practices, while also protecting the interests of qualified massage therapists. 

Julia Farrugia Portelli speaking at Tuesday's press conference. Photo: Jonathan BorgJulia Farrugia Portelli speaking at Tuesday's press conference. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Gentlemen's clubs

So-called gentlemen's clubs - establishments in which women provide private dances against payment - are also named in the reform document. 

Albeit different in nature, “gentlemen’s clubs may also expose workers to intimidation, emotional abuse, and psychological and sexual assault,” the document reads. 

Regulation, the document says, should ensure that these establishments are not used by criminals as a legitimate interface of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. 

RELATED STORIES

To legalise or not

The issue of how to regulate the underworld prostitution market, has long been on the government agenda. 

Sources have told Times of Malta that Cabinet ministers had been split on whether or not to legalise paying for sex during the last legislature. 

Speaking to Times of Malta from the sidelines of this morning’s press conference, Dr Farrugia Portelli said that the issue of legalising paying for prostitution was a complex one. 

Julia Farrugia Portelli discusses the reform proposals. Video: Jonathan Borg

On either side of the debate, reforms introduced in other countries had yielded mixed results, she said. 

Models range from the so-called German model, which legalises prostitution, to that favoured in Nordic countries, which decriminalises the act for the prostitute but still punishes those paying for sex.

Dr Farrugia Portelli said both these positions needed to be studied in detail and declined to say which she favoured.  

Protecting victims

The reform seeks to streamline mechanisms currently in place to deal with human trafficking.  

Identifying a victim, the document reads, is one of the most delicate stages. Authorities may have limited information to be able to take action or even initiate legal proceedings. 

To counteract this, the reform suggests improved ways of sharing information between the various entities involved in the sector.  

Victims, the document reads, should have adequate protection. That includes shelters, medical and psychological examinations, and help in applying for legal employment and education.  

Investigating traffickers

According to the document, human trafficking is regarded by the authorities as one of the most difficult areas to investigate.  

An overhaul in information sharing is required to better tackle this side of the matter, too, the document says. 

The document also suggests beefing up resources available to track down the proceeds of trafficking and other related offences.  

Court procedures should also avoid the “re-traumatization” of victims. 

The public consultation period closes at the end of October. Feedback can be sent to reforms@gov.mt