Malta Diary A new humane outlook at what is termed to be “the world’s oldest profession” – Malta proposes to decriminalise prostitution
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The so-called ‘profession’ of a prostitute, also known as hooker, whore, street-walker, lady of the night, escort, harlot, brass, call girl, fallen woman, courtesan, nowadays also connected with ‘pole dancer’ and since 1948 the use of the term male prostitute, are all classed to be the world’s “oldest profession”.
This stretches back to Neolithic times, is recorded in the early days covered by the Holy Bible and therefore rampant in Jewish and Semitic cultures (including Phoenician), permeating down to ancient Greece and ancient Rome, throughout all the eras and ages, down to present day.
The Knight Cavaliers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (a Holy Order for the nobility) in the 14th, 15th and 16th Century were sworn to celibacy but are known to have been frequent clients for courtesans in Malta’s notorious Strait Street which since then continued its notoriety into the late 1960s and 1970s and the presence of British and NATO (mainly American) services personnel.
Large cities, industrial towns and port areas have been favourite breeding grounds and Malta’s size and geographical location rendering it a port area in the Central Mediterranean since recorded history, Malta was a magnet for such a ‘profession’ from its earliest recorded history and indeed resulting financial return from the ‘profession’ boosted Malta socially and economically.
Is the profession still active today in Malta? Its traditional locations were Strait Street in Valletta, the Gzira Waterfront bordering Sliema Creek (which used to be filled with Royal Naval cruisers, destroyers and mine-sweepers) and the Marsa Waterfront (for Merchant seamen). It has disappeared from Strait Street and it has been greatly decimated in Gzira and Marsa.
However, the turn of the Millennium saw the mushrooming of what are known as Gentlemen’s Clubs and also Massage Parlours, giving a more elegant dimension to what in some cases provided a cover for brass tacks prostitution.
In recent years Malta’s Government has given birth to what is known as “public consultation”, enabling the general public to make its views known on particular subjects of interest and welfare to society in general. This is launched for a period of time and the suggestions studied by a panel before final decisions are taken and proposed legislation discussed and passed in Parliament.
Last week the Government launched a public consultation document on human trafficking and prostitution. Among the proposed 16 priorities, the Government is proposing that prostitution be decriminalised while Gentlemen’s Clubs and Massage Parlours be regularised by strict licence.
During the launching of the public consultation period Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Julia Farrugia Portelli, made it clear that the Government has no intention of legalising brothels while launching a strong appeal to the public to start regarding prostitutes as victims and NOT criminals. The whole intent of the proposed legislation is to put strong curbs on human trafficking (much associated with massage parlours as well as clubs) so that, among others, induced workers are not exploited.
The Government is proposing that prostitutes will no longer be charged in Court as criminals with the risk of ruining their good conduct record for life and in certain cases they are also imprisoned. The change in legislation will mean they will no longer suffer prison sentences.
In passing, and as a matter of related interest, prostitution in Malta is not legally banned. However, soliciting and loitering with intent to provide prostitution services are criminal offences. In other words, a woman in her home can invite any number of men into her home, provide sexual services and charge as deems fit – and that is not illegal.
Pimping of course is a criminal offence, particularly forced pimping, as well as living off the earnings of prostitution.
In recent years a number of cases have come to light in which young women have been brought in from countries like Colombia and China to provide “services” in massage parlours. Women from Eastern Europe have been brought to Malta under the false pretence of being offered “a job” and end up dancing and providing other “services” in clubs to earn their money and pay their rent.
The Government is maintaining that the proposals emanated from the principle that those working in the entertainment industry be safeguarded and not exploited. Society should no longer look at prostitutes as criminals but as victims.
The Government is also proposing that Massage Parlours and Gentlemen’s Clubs do not end up as a net for human trafficking and exploitation of those involved. The scope is that of a system in which those who are qualified in the beauty sector – that is real masseurs and masseuses – are the only persons permitted to operate this type of business.
Gentlemen’s Clubs are to be strictly licenced too.
Equally interesting is the launching of a rehabilitation programme for prostitutes seeking help to quit the “profession”, providing them with job training and counselling.
The Government said these matters should no longer be brushed under the carpet as if non-existent, as used to happen in the past.
Public consultation on the proposal to decriminalise prostitution will remain open to the end of October and has already attracted a certain amount of debate and controversy.
Meanwhile the Government is also running a series of public consultation sessions on the forthcoming Budget enabling the public to propose important – but of course feasible – proposals.
This is Democracy at work in modern Malta.
“Words provoke; actions evoke”
Words may induce but actions lead by setting an example.