By next year, prostitution could become regularised in Malta. For two years, a group of over 40 entities from all walks of life - including NGOs, academics, doctors, lawyers and people who work directly with those in prostitution looked into the sex work legislation in different countries.

Decriminalising the selling without criminalising the buying of sex would put vulnerable women at heightened risk of human trafficking, according to a spokesperson for the coalition.

Prostitution in Malta is technically legal, however, loitering and soliciting in public, and living off proceeds of prostitution is not.

The coalition believes that decriminalising the buying of sex work would mainstream prostitution, therefore increasing demand, and subsequently, human trafficking. 

Taking that measure would mainstream prostitution, which would raise demand and, in turn, increase the incidence of human trafficking.

This is because the number of ‘voluntary prostitutes’ would not keep up with the increased demand so more people would be forced into prostitution against their will, considering how lucrative the sex industry is.

According to the research carried out by the coalition, in cases where both buying and selling sex have been decriminalised, regularised brothels work with underground ones to service illegal requests. These requests might range from sex with underage women to intercourse without protection.

The coalition is instead urging the adoption of the Equality model, previously known as the Nordic model. Under this model, those who are prostituted are not committing a crime and they are offered support to exit the sex trade. However, it would be against the law to buy a sexual service.

This takes choice out of the hands of the buyers and puts it into the hands of the sellers, according to the spokesperson.

The coalition believes in a staggered approach when it comes to penalties, which would be inclined towards changing behaviour rather than punishing offenders. First-time offenders would pay an administrative fine and attend a course to prevent further criminality.

If they are caught again, they would be handed a significantly higher administrative fine.

The third offence would be classified as criminal, with an increased fine and mandatory custodial sentence.

The law in other countries

Spain: A crime to sell sex but not to buy it.

Spain is the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, after Thailand and Puerto Rico, according to a 2011 UN report.

More than 90 percent of prostituted people were migrants.

The government is drafting a law to criminalise the buying of sex.

Sweden: Illegal to buy sex but not to sell it.

No murders of prostituted people since 1999, when the law was introduced.

The number of people exploited in street prostitution halved.

The Council of Europe has recommended all member states adopt Sweden’s approach.

The Netherlands: selling and buying sex both legal.

Europol investigations revealed Dutch pimps and brothel owners were collaborating with traffickers to bring women into the country, subjecting them to extreme violence and murder.

The extent of distress and use of sedatives among women in prostitution increased.

Between 50 and 90 percent of prostituted women in three main Dutch cities work against their will.

The number of trafficking cases increased.

Germany: prostitution legal

An estimated 400,000 women in prostitution but only 44 are officially registered with social welfare agencies.

Prosecutors complain that legalisation has made their work in prosecuting human trafficking and pimping more difficult.

New Zealand: prostitution legal

At least five sex workers have been murdered since 2003 when prostitution was legalised.

New Zealand is named in the US as a source country for underage girls subjected to internal sex trafficking.