A massage therapist fears for the safety of herself and her colleagues as sexual requests quadrupled in the first months of the pandemic, the result, she believes, of the normalisation of massage centres functioning as brothels.
Rebecca, who has been working as a self-employed professional therapist since 2016, told Times of Malta it had, sadly, become normal to receive an average of one message a week asking for sexual services. However, she added, bet-ween March and May last year that number went up to four weekly.
While she speculated that the increase had to do with restrictions limiting social interaction and, possibly, the ability to engage in casual sex, she said the reason people were turning to massage centres was clearly because they have started to conflate them with brothels.
“The problem is that people who intend to buy sex as a service go to what is disguised as a massage centre and, then, we fall in the same category,” she said, explaining that the issue had caused her so much anxiety she put off starting work again till a month after the lockdown.
The lack of distinction between massage therapy and sex work was not only devaluing her profession but putting her and her colleagues at a greater risk of assault, she explained.
Despite being extremely careful with the clients she booked and rejecting them at the slightest suspicion of ulterior intentions, at least two men had solicited sexual services while she was applying a massage, one becoming verbally abusive when she refused his request.
“He called me ‘stronza’ (bitch) in my studio after I ended the massage early because he asked and insisted I should finish him off since he already had the beginnings of an erection,” she said.
In an email she sent to several government departments and the police, she appealed for better regulation of the sex industry, pleading that, as matters stood, it was forced underground and she and her colleagues were bearing the brunt of it.
Sex work should be legalised, she said, and there should be better enforcement of brothels marketing themselves as massage parlours.
“Do I need to be held at knifepoint and cut by a client or be raped before the authorities, our government and lawmakers take action to protect everyone, professional massage therapists as well as sex workers?” she wrote.
“Massage therapists such as myself study for years to do what we do. And we do not stop updating ourselves if we are to do a good job,” she added.
“We stay up to date with new techniques, we pay for expensive courses to get our qualifications and certificates and we give a good service to our clients who come to us with sincere requests, helping them achieve their health goals,” she continued.
A legal framework aiming to decriminalise sex work is being drafted but it has drawn the criticism of a coalition NGOs, which say no one with expertise on the matter sits on the technical committee.
While the group agrees with the decriminalisation of the sex worker, it firmly believes that sex-buying should be made a crime.