The bottom line: Over €16 million a year from illicit services at massage parlours

Over €16 million a year is generated out of illicit services offered in brothels thinly-veiled as massage parlours, an investigation by The Shift News reveals.

Through the testimony of a woman forced to work in one of the illicit massage parlours highlighted by The Shift News, and using the most conservative estimates, the economics of Malta’s exploitation of sex starts to emerge.

In a case from last November, a Thai-born Italian woman testified against a 45-year old Maltese man from St Julian’s, and his partner, a 35-year old Chinese woman residing in St Julian’s, who were charged with human trafficking, forcing two employees into prostitution, keeping a brothel and living off the earnings of prostitution.

While the case continues, the accused 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.

The witness had testified she worked every single day of the week, saying the parlour charged each client €45, but she charged more for “extras”.

The Shift News knows from other sources that a massage with “extras” or even a “full service” costs between €60 to €70. Adverts on ‘buy and sell’ sites such as, advertise these services and their cost openly.

Read more: Malta’s sex slaves – hiding in plain sight

The estimate on annual turnover is based on the following:

  • An average of four per day [assuming that sometimes no clients went in and that sometimes eight did, giving an average of four a day ([0+8]/2)]
  • An average price of €57.50 [assuming that some of those clients only wanted a massage and some wanted ‘extras’, giving an average price of €57.50 ([€45+€70]/2)]
  • As a result, a massage parlour offering illicit services makes €83,950 a year (the witness testified that she worked everyday, so €57.50 × 4 clients × 365 days).

The last records available of licensed massage parlours in 2016 show 196 outlets, according to information tabled in Parliament by economy minister Chris Cardona. He announced then that the government had decided these establishments no longer needed a licence so updated records are not available.

Assuming there has not been one single new parlour opened since 2016 ( a conservative estimate since the removal of licenses would have led to an increase). And assuming each parlour only operates with one working woman (a conservative assumption as many have multiple private massage rooms). Then, the total income of illicit parlours is almost €16.5 million a year (€83,950 × 196 parlours).

This is not the income of the women working, but the income generated in outlets. The witness in the human trafficking case had testified that she was only allowed to keep €10 of the €45 charged for a normal massage, meaning that while parlour owners are making large sums of money their workers are scraping by on extremely low wages, without holidays, living in highly oppressive conditions and under constant surveillance.

Further, with the parlour owners taking such a huge chunk of the income on “normal services”, the workers are effectively forced to supplement their miserly income with “extras”.

The Shift News has shown that individuals charged with human trafficking and forced prostitution are openly operating and advertising massage parlours with clear offers of sexual services. The assessment above is based on one of those cases in court, and the accused continues to openly sell sexual services across social media platforms.

Read more: Charged with human trafficking and prostitution and openly operating brothels

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report published by the US State Department annually, again listed Malta in Tier 2 – governments of countries that do not fully meet the minimum standards but “are making significant efforts to do so”. It ranks with countries like Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The report 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 US report states that forced labour victims originate from China, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Women and children from Malta have also been subjected to sex trafficking within the country, the report states.

The Shift News investigation on massage parlours operating as brothels has shed some light on an industry below the radar. Further analysis has shown that even when convicted, or awaiting sentencing, massage parlour owners openly selling sex continue to operate freely.

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