Sex Work: A matter of morals or damage control?

Sex work remains a strong taboo, with many legal models crafted without the consideration of the people whom they will ultimately affect.

Often termed the world’s oldest profession, sex work has stood the test of time, even when the Church dominated everyday life and enjoyed almost limitless power. Nevertheless, sex work remains a strong taboo, with many legal models crafted without the consideration of the people whom they will ultimately affect. These result in an underground ring where abuse is rife and where vulnerable people are taken advantage of. 

Last September, I embarked on the journey to join the National Youth Parliament. I was assigned a position ‘In Favour of the Regularisation of Sex Work in Malta’. My group and I spent a few months doing heavy research on a topic we had no previous understanding of and we arrived at a position that I am glad to be able to share with the readers of The Journal.

When the Nordic Model to sex work was invented, it was regarded as a pioneer. This model is a comprehensive approach to addressing sex trafficking and prostitution. It decriminalises the selling of sex, while criminalising the buying of sex and the exploitation of sex workers. The model also provides support services to help sex workers exit prostitution, if they choose to do so. Now, research is showing that it discourages safe practices, as customers who are committing a crime will not show their identity. This is not only depicted through researchers who provide hypothetical evidence from a privileged perspective, but even through a study carried out with sex workers here in Malta (Direct from Owner: Sex workers’ perspectives on the legislative and social changes necessary in Malta – Aaron Giardina, University of Malta).

We asked: what if we create a system where clients are registered so that it would be easier to prevent and report abuse? That way, it is ensured, among other things, that sex workers are better protected from sexually transmitted diseases. An entrance strategy would be implemented to assure that the person is not forced, trafficked, or groomed into working in that sector. Therapy sessions would be used to record and address mental health and other issues that might have led them to this work. Therapy sessions would also be offered while the person is working in this sphere. What if brothels are registered and routinely checked for the upkeep of standards instead of them being hidden and having atrocious conditions? What if they are run by the sex workers themselves through cooperatives instead of by pimps, who are behind the majority of abuses in this field? That would allow the workers control over their own body and the freedom to give consent. What if, when exiting the sector, they are given training and other assistance to be able to easily transition into other jobs?

All of that would be possible with a model of well thought out regularisation/legalisation of sex work. This system would acknowledge the simple fact that sex work is a reality that has existed since ancient times and won’t go away. It even thrives in countries where it is officially banned.

This highlights the importance that the industry is better regulated, thus better protecting sex workers from being exploited.

This would be possible with the establishment of an entity which specifically takes care of the sex work industry in Malta. Henceforth, ensuring that the information is taken care of with the utmost sensitivity and confidentiality so that it is given their trust.

New fines and charges should be created towards the client when not observing and complying with set regulations, this might include also charges of rape. Additionally, when looking into this topic, one cannot help but notice the scarcity of charges related to human trafficking and grooming. Putting someone in jail for five to ten years for ruining the life of a person or a minor permanently is certainly not enough of a deterrent.

The entity should be obliged to produce studies and reports about developments in the industry and suggest legislative amendments or new legislation, which is then brought to parliament. This would create a system that is continuously improving itself, therefore improving the life of the people who desperately need it.

Photo: John Rocha

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