The legalisation of prostitution would legalise violence and abuse, according to the chair of the National Centre for Freedom from Addictions.
On the other hand, finding alternative jobs for sex workers and education could lead to less demand for prostitution and to fewer women on the streets, according to Dr Anna Vella.
Dr Vella spoke to this newspaper during a summit about best practices to end modern slavery organised by the Amersi Foundation, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.
The regularisation debate resurfaced during the recent electoral campaigns, when the Labour Party pledged that it would be discussing the subject if elected to government.
Dr Vella, who has been working with prostitutes for 22 years, is against the legalisation of prostitution. She believes that those who have taken the prostitution route had no other choice.
“Many tell us that they cannot hit the streets sober and need to be intoxicated.
“So we asked what comes first: prostitution because they need the money or drugs because they want to get into prostitution,” she said, referring to a European study that she formed part of.
“None come first. Instead, sexual abuse comes first.
“Women who have not been sexually abused find other ways to get their money for drugs,” she said.
Women who have not been sexually abused find other ways to get their money for drugs
Meanwhile, women on the streets also encounter “terrible violence”. In France, for example, rape is six times more frequent among sex workers.
“By legalising prostitution, we are just putting our conscience at peace and saying: you’re regular now, you can go through abuse and even pay taxes on it.”
Dr Vella believes in the Nordic model, made of three stages. First, women facing such trauma should not be criminalised.
They should be helped to find an alternative job. This was challenging for some, as they did not have record of clean conduct.
Third, children and young men had to be educated about prostitution and taught that this was a form of abuse.
These three steps would lead to less demand, meaning fewer women on the streets, she said.
Opening the summit, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for action to address growing global concerns about the exploitation of vulnerable people, in particular women and girls, through illicit prostitution.
She called for discussion on the long-term effects of the models followed in Sweden, France, and Germany, among others.
Meanwhile, speaking about contemporary forms of slavery “even in our most developed nations”, Ms Coleiro Preca called for an EU-level observatory to combat modern slavery and national commissioners empowered to take action on behalf of the vulnerable.
She also called on businesses to do their part by helping to root out and address potential instances of modern-day slavery within their supply chains and across industries.
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