Thu | Aug 17, 2017

No traction for prostitution out west

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 2:00 AMOkoye Henry
Accused sex workers being loaded into a police van in downtown Montego Bay. The were taken into custody dury a police raid.

While some European cities have established 'red light district' to regulate prostitution, in Jamaica, where the so-called 'oldest profession' is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act and the Towns and Communities Act, a major drive is on to stamp out the trade.

Just under two weeks ago, the St James police, alongside a team aligned to the human trafficking unit, carried out a major operation against prostitute operating in downtown Montego Bay. Some 76 alleged sex workers, 43 females and 33 males, were detained, warned and subsequently released.

While noting that the police cannot charge the sex workers for prostitution unless they are caught in the act, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Steve McGregor, the commanding officer for St James, said if the practitioners are caught behaving in a suspicious manner they can be arrested under the charge of 'reasonable suspicion'.

"To have people walking on the street half-naked ... and can't account for their whereabouts or what they are doing, then we can arrest them under reasonable suspicion and then carry them through the process to find out why and by what means they are out there," said McGregor. " ...if charged and found guilty, oftentimes the offender(s) would be asked to pay a fine, usually around $1,000, as opposed to serving jail time."

With a mandate to preserve Montego Bay's image as an enviable tourism destination, the city's mayor, Councillor Glendon Harris, is fully supportive of the police's initiative. According to him, prostitution is becoming a problem in the city and its negative influence needs to be curtailed.

MAJOR PROBLEM

"It is a major problem and it is expanding rapidly," said Harris. "When it expands like that, then the competition causes all sorts of things because if you are taking notice, you will see the amount of them (sex workers) coming out earlier and staying even later."

Section 23 of the Sexual Offences Act states that, "every person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution or who or in any place, whether public or private, persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes, commits an offence, can be fined up to $500,000 or imprisoned for up to three years if convicted in a Resident Magistrate's Court. If convicted in a Circuit Court, offenders can either be fined or be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

The Act also states that, "if there is a reason to suspect that any house or any part of a house is being used for the purposes of prostitution and that any person residing in or frequenting the house is living wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution, the Resident Magistrate or Judge may issue a warrant authorising any constable to enter and search the house and to arrest that person."

Within recent years, sex workers in Jamaica have formed themselves into an organisation and have been lobby for the relaxation of the laws against prostitution. However, it is unlikely that their call will receive any traction, especially with church adamantly against any such concession.

"The Church remains in opposition to the legalisation of prostitution in Jamaica," Rev Conrad H. Pitkin, the pastor of the Montego Bay-based Faith Temple Assemble of God, told The Gleaner in a recent interview. "First, from a moral perspective, we believe it is not appropriate; and second, we cannot open the nation and our young children to that sort of conduct."

Despite the efforts of the police and the opposition from the city authorities and the Church, downtown Montego Bay remains a hotbed of illicit sexually activities at nights, especially in areas such as the Hip Strip (Gloucester Avenue), Harbour Street, Church Street and Market Street, as well as by the Charles Gordon Market.