Call for order - Negril stakeholders want prostitution regularised
While stopping short of calling for the establishment of a red-light district in the resort town, some business stakeholders in Negril, Westmoreland, want to see prostitution decriminalised and regulated in order to create safer conditions for sex workers and their clients.
Participating in a recent Gleaner forum on job creation, investment and growth in Negril, the stakeholders admitted that despite being illegal, male and female prostitution has always been part of the fabric of the town, albeit a big contributor to social disorder.
"Prostitutes and rent-a-dreads are quite numerous here in Negril," said Christine Cohen, owner of the Spa Retreat Boutique Hotel.
"Rent-a-dreads have a big underground business. There are already websites where you can rent a dread. You can already have everything set up before you even hit the airport. Within 60 minutes, your arrangement is made."
It is for that reason why Cohen and other stakeholders, including Lee Issa, the president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC), believed it would best serve the town by having the industry legalised, so it could be regulated to address safety concerns.
"I think you can have some sort of coexistence, but it would have to be confined, controlled and managed, because we are not going to get rid of it," said Issa, who is chairman of Couples Resorts. "If regularised, it would in some way allow for the girls to be checked health-wise."
However, as things are from a health perspective, Negril is far from ready to offer the type of health care that a regulated sex trade would require.
The town's health infrastructure, which is a woefully inadequate health centre, is struggling to address even day-to-day health issues.
According to Elaine Allen-Bradley, a director of the NCC, the health centre is unbecoming of a town that is considered a premier tourist destination.
"If you should go to the health centre, it's a disgrace. We should have a health system in place in Negril where we have all the facilities for locals and tourists alike," she said.
However, while some stakeholders want to see a decriminalised sex industry in Negril, until that becomes a reality, the police will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to prostitution.
According to Deputy Superintendent Adrian Hamilton, the officer in charge at the Negril Police Station, the police will continue to enforce the law against prostitution, but will partner with the Ministry of Health so that whenever these alleged sex workers are taken into custody, some amount of counselling is provided.
"We recently went to their main area in Negril, their habitat, and we demolished three makeshift structures that were being used as brothels ... . We took some persons into custody," Hamilton said.