No “damsels in distress:” NGOs defend prostitution decriminalisation plans

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The plan to fully decriminalise prostitution has earned many detractors, but such opposition is far from universal, with a group of NGOs insisting that prostitution reform should treat prostitutes as any other workers.

In a statement, the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM), Allied Rainbow Communities, Aditus Foundation, LGBTI+ Gozo, Checkpoint Malta and Integra Foundation argued that any other approach would treat sex workers as lesser beings and fail to protect them from abuse.

According to the NGOs, sex workers should not be treated as “criminals or simply damsels in distress; the life of a sex worker is far more complex than that.”

They acknowledged the reality of sex trafficking, but insisted that once decriminalisation takes place, it would be up to the authorities to implement mechanisms to offer exit programmes and support for those who need it, and to act more harshly against pimps.

In contrast to the Coalition on Human Trafficking and Prostitution and the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality, the NGOs said that while there was some intersectionality between sex work and sex trafficking, the two issues should be tackled separately. They said that while there were many who were trafficked and exploited, others chose to turn to prostitution willingly for various reasons.

They also insisted that the so-called Nordic model proposed by the coalition and the NCPE – the decriminalisation of prostitution coupled with the criminalisation of buying – would backfire by forcing sex workers underground, whilst insisting that there were various reasons why such services would be sought, not just exploitation.

The NGOs lamented that while the contribution of organisations was crucial, the voice of sex workers was notably absent from the debate.