Giving a voice to sex workers in Malta

Sex workers … are the experts on the industry, despite the clamorous voices of those who wish to speak for us, and who dismiss the accounts from sex workers that do not fit with their ideological positions. Those who ignore our voices and dismiss the
complexity of our experiences are part of creating the very problems they say they wish to solve.

Sex Work and Human Rights, The International Union of Sex Workers, March 2014

With these words in mind, and conscious of the fact that the voices of sex workers in Malta has been largely absent from the recent reform discussion, we wish to give a much needed voice to the community that is often shrouded in fear and marginalisation.

Through the Out of the Shadows project, sex workers will be able to have an active role in informing policy makers and society in general of their experiences, needs and recommendations on issues surrounding sex work in Malta. The process will be led by Marija Grech, an independent researcher, who will create a safe space for individuals to talk and share in an intimate, respectful and inclusive atmosphere.

We are also consciously taking a step back from leading the project and the discussions, in order for it to be guided and populated by the voices of sex workers themselves without prejudicing their stories with any preconceived ideologies, personal experiences or targets that we may have. The aim behind this is to also inform us as to how to formulate our own perspectives whilst keeping in mind the voices of those we could be speaking for in the future.

However, we would like to include a caveat that our understanding of sex work is the provision of sex for money by and to consenting adults. We firmly believe that by confusing sex work with abusive, harmful, and exploitative acts such as trafficking for the provision of sex work, involuntary sexual practices and sexual acts with children below the age of consent can produce conditions in which such deplorable acts will continue to florish and in which the identification of victims will be increasingly difficult. We believe that it is vulnerability that creates victims, and that it is exactly the causes and effects of vulnerability that should be addressed.

in 2019 aditus, together with Integra Foundation, published a paper in reponse to the Public Consultation on the Reform on Human Trafficking and Prostitution launched by the government the same year. Our paper Reform on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, highlighted that there needs to be a direct and sustainable dialogue in place to hear sex workers’ voices and respond to their difficulties with greater appropriateness. We suggested that diverse and practical activities, such as workshops or national seminars, should be carried out to enable a broader consultation that would create a channel of communication between the various stakeholders whilst also raising awareness about the issues with the general public. We again call for this approach to be adopted in any future discussion, and hope that the result of this project will assist in this aim.

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*The image above was taken in May 2016 at our aditus offices in Hamrun during a staff meeting.

This project is funded through the Voluntary Organisations Project Scheme managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector on behalf of the Ministry for Social Inclusion and Wellbeing.