By Audley Phillip
While law enforcement is obsessed with seeking out and confiscating contraband on the high seas there is a crime that, if left unchecked, will become a problem in Antigua and other Caribbean Islands. It is one among many crimes against women that goes unmentioned, unreported and ignored. This is the crime of human trafficking.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, [human trafficking] involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. This exploitation often takes the form of prostitution or forced servitude. In either case, human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. Although some women enter countries or make arrangements with the intention to engage in prostitution, once they arrive in these foreign countries, they become victims of sex trafficking. Their passports are confiscated; they are threatened with deportation, and in most cases, are forced to work off expenses to which they were unaware they had incurred. They soon find themselves, in a foreign country, in a situation that is inescapable.
I wonder how many women in the brothels and private homes in Antigua are victims of human trafficking? The majority of women who might be victims migrate from Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Not all of these women enter the country illegally. Some enter with valid work permits, and end up in the same predicament of psychological abuse and debt bondage.
Of the few cases verified as legitimate cases in human trafficking, none of the offenders (pimps and brothel owners) were prosecuted or fined, and no follow-up investigations were pursued. Although Antigua is making a small effort to address this issue, much more work needs to be done. In some cases, prostitutes might be deported, but pimps and brothels continue to operate at will. Hence, the core of the problem still remains unaddressed.
Compared to other Caribbean countries, the situation in Antigua is not as bad. Barbados is a haven for women who are victims of trafficking, as well as men who are forced into construction, and children who are exploited for sex. In some cases, parents or guardians receive compensation for the child’s participation in sexual activity. In the Dominican Republic, child sex tourism is a lucrative industry. It’s sickening to think that tourists travel to island destinations to engage in pedophilia.
Child sex tourists/pedophiles justify this behaviour, by claiming they are offering financial help to individuals in poverty-stricken countries. These individuals include schoolteachers, military personnel, and peacekeepers. Equally dysfunctional is the fact that the relatives of these underage females are responsible for forcing them into a life of child prostitution. Human and sex trafficking is such a blatant disrespect and insensitivity towards another person’s well-being. We have once again categorized each other as mere commodities to be purchased, sold and bartered.
Although prostitution is illegal in Antigua, to my understanding, law enforcement is only concerned with drugs and guns. If a brothel is raided and found free of guns and drugs, it is free to continue operations. This gives the impression that it’s okay to engage in prostitution, as long as guns and drugs are not involved. A few individuals I spoke to seemed unsure as to whether prostitution in Antigua was illegal, based on this dismissive approach by law enforcement. In other instances, brothels continue to operate due to a technicality, since they often camouflage as legitimate businesses. However, Antigua is a very small island. It’s not difficult to locate and prove an establishment is actually a brothel, and identify management and other affiliates. The fact that these establishments continue to engage in business with no pressure from law enforcement is quite baffling.
The reality is that guns in the hands of the wrong people and illicit drugs have a negative effect on society, but prostitution has an equally negative social effect. The lifestyle of prostitution encourages a lifestyle of guns and drugs. This is why the problem of human trafficking requires greater attention. It’s almost impossible to separate these elements from each other and from the crime of human trafficking.
Antigua, as well as other island nations, need to develop a more comprehensive and focused approach to this problem. The current approach seems to encourage the very crimes they are obsessed with controlling. There is a need for initiative focusing on properly educating and training law enforcement, educating communities, closing brothels, formulating and enforcing anti-trafficking laws, taking an interest in issues that disproportionately affect women and children, considering how crimes are connected, and considering the social impact of crimes that go unaddressed. Otherwise, we will never get to the heart of the problem, which requires more stringent laws and a more inclusive perspective.