NEWS:Regional forum on sex trade kicks off in Jamaica

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Wed, 22 Jul 1998 06:00:02 -0700 (PDT)


Regional forum on sex trade kicks off in Jamaica

By Earl Moxam
KINGSTON, Jamaica, July 16 (Reuters) - A two-day conference in Jamaica
on tourism and the sex trade in the Caribbean has sparked debate between
advocates of regulated prostitution and opponents warning of moral
decline and lawlessness.

Prostitutes, social scientists, medical experts and policy makers were
expected to attend the conference, which started Thursday and was hosted
by the Centre for Gender and Development Studies of the University of the
West Indies.

``The objective of the conference is mainly to bring to the attention of
society what obtains in the sex trade, how people are treated, what
options are available and the health and legislation implications,'' conference
organiser Jacquie Burgess told Reuters.

Commercial sex should be regarded as a legitimate employment option,
Burgess said, adding that the practice needs to be regarded in a positive
light.

The Kingston conference was to be addressed by a team of researchers who
planned to present findings from their research on sex workers in eight
Caribbean countries: Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, the Dominican
Republic, Guyana, the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam.

One of the conference sessions was flagged: ``Come to Jamaica and feel
all right: Tourism and the sex trade,'' echoing a Jamaica Tourist Board ad
campaign sung to the hugely popular ``One Love'' by reggae icon Bob
Marley.

The sex trade returned to the national spotlight in Jamaica last month
when Howard Hamilton, President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, called
for the establishment of regulated sex shops as part of the island's tourist
industry.

Hamilton, speaking in the tourist mecca Montego Bay, said regulated
prostitution was part of the solution to the resort's problem of visitor
harassment. He called for sex shops to be staffed by both male and
female sex workers with medical certification.

Hotelier Josef Forstmeyer, who has long advocated that prostitution be
de-criminalized, maintains that Jamaicans are largely hypocritical in
their public attitude towards prostitution.

``This is a country which claims to be deeply religious, yet there's no
taboo against bringing up children out of wedlock,'' he told Reuters in
an interview ahead of the conference.

Forstmeyer, a vice president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association,
regards sex as a natural part of the tourist trade.

``Tourism is, by nature, associated with exotic excitement and sex is
part of that,'' said Forstmeyer, who argued that while tourists will not
necessarily come to a destination for that purpose, some will indulge
once they arrive.

According to Burgess, the sex-and-tourism link is very well organised.

``In many parts of the world, tourism packages are sold involving
companionship and sex, for example a North American or European will
come into the Caribbean already with a contact for someone who will provide
sexual services,'' Burgess told Reuters.

Sex trade advocates in Jamaica should not expect any encouragement from
the government in the near future.

``There's absolutely no plan to legalise or de-criminalize
prostitution,'' National Security and Justice Minister K.D. Knight told Reuters.

Knight said he was totally opposed to the idea of establishing red light
districts or sanctioning any other aspect of the sex trade.

Recalling impressions he formed on a visit to the Netherlands several
years ago, when members of the Dutch police escorted him to a red light
district, Knight said: ``The kind of debauchery and depravity that I saw, I would
never like to see replicated anywhere in the world, let alone Jamaica.''

But Burgess insists that these ``working people'' deserve respect.

``If people refer to sex workers as whores or prostitutes rather than as
working people, they will continue to be unfairly stigmatized,'' Burgess
said.

13:07 07-16-98


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