Individuals charged with human trafficking and forced prostitution are openly operating and advertising massage parlours with clear offers of sexual services, The Shift News can reveal.
In two cases, one from last November and another as recent as February, the individuals charged with human trafficking, forced prostitution, keeping a brothel and living off the earnings of prostitution continue to operate brothels thinly-veiled as massage parlours and they continue to openly advertise women for sex.
The two cases show that, even when prosecuted, brothel owners continue to operate freely.
One operator of a massage parlour clearly selling sex through highly erotic photographs of women working in them across secret Facebook groups, triumphantly shared home affairs minister Michael Farrugia’s recent statement in Parliament that the police received no reports of prostitution at parlours.
The recently-launched Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, an annual publication by the US State Department, noted that Malta has not obtained a trafficking conviction since early 2012, “despite it being shown over the past five years that Malta is a source and destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and a destination for women and men subjected to labour trafficking”.
The report noted that a 2004 case involving a police official for collusion with a trafficker that remained pending. In addition, three labour trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014 are still not concluded.
The Shift News investigation shows that even while awaiting sentencing or convicted, massage parlour owners openly selling sex continue to operate with impunity.
In February, a 24-year old Maltese woman from Gzira pleaded guilty to the charge that she knowingly lived off the earnings of prostitution and permitted her property, a massage parlour in Mosta, to be used for the purposes of prostitution – crimes that carry prison terms of four to 12 years.
On 16 May, she was sentenced to one year imprisonment suspended for two years. Any licences held by her to operate her establishment were withdrawn – in fact, these were not needed after December 2016.
Despite her suspended sentence, she continues to advertise sexual services at massage parlours in Mosta and Fgura across Facebook, even using her own personal account.
She advertises the parlours with, “we have new girl just fresh yong (sic) and sexy” and that the parlours are “open morning till late evening”.
The emphasis on a rotating roster of “girls”, irregular opening hours, and the covered windows and doors of the parlour are strong indicators of the parlour’s illicit sex operations, The Shift News has shown.
The Shift News has also seen messages in a secret group, where parlour clients discuss the services and “girls” she offered.
In a further twist, what seems to be a fake Facebook account with the name of ‘Samantha Cassar’ aggressively promotes the same illicit parlours that she does, with the same promises of “new girls”, but this time the accused is one of the girls on offer.
The fake account posted at least two photographs of a woman, face semi-obscured as is typical of illicit massage parlour adverts, who is identifiable as the accused by her tattooed left-shoulder, lip-piercing and straight black hair.
She has also advertised a radio transceiver on her Facebook timeline, which is capable of listening in on police transmissions.
Her massage parlour led to other charges filed against an Italian man who has resided in Malta for two years – he was accused of pimping his own wife in her outlet. He pleaded not guilty.
Unlike the owner of the parlour, the Italian was denied bail. Yet his Facebook account (that also includes his wife’s name) is still used to upload a large number of photos of his wife.
In a separate case from November 2017, a Thai-born Italian woman testified against a 45-year old Maltese man from St Julian’s, as well as his partner, a 35-year old Chinese woman, who stand charged with human trafficking, forcing two employees into prostitution, keeping a brothel and living off the earnings of prostitution.
In court, the witness burst into tears when asked to identify the accused, who she said stole her mobile phone, and whose girlfriend kept her passport and forced her live in the parlour itself.
While the case continues, he is busy promoting the same Paceville massage parlour in which the witness provided massages and sex to up to eight male clients a day, working 12-hour days every day of the week, according to her testimony in court.
The witness was allowed to keep €10 of the €45 charged to each client, she said.
Massage parlours have not needed a government licence to operate since the end of 2016 and no reports of parlours being used as brothels have been filed, we learnt in the final week of June from statements given in parliament by economy minister Chris Cardona and home affairs minister Michael Farrugia.
Yet, an investigation by The Shift News of Malta’s booming massage parlour underworld found a number of massage parlours that exhibit all the indicators of commercial sex operations and human trafficking that law enforcement authorities could have found had they bothered to look.
But when the money is so good and the victims are voiceless, why stop the show?