According to the Centro de Orientacion e Investigacion Integral (COIN), a group
that has been training local sex workers to be health educators for the last
two decades, 600,000 women ply the sex trade at home along with a number of men
and transgenders. A 2001 International Organisation for Migration (IOM) report
says that almost 150,000 Dominicans have migrated to sell sex abroad. About
40,000 of them work in the Caribbean. They're scattered throughout the island
chain, reaching as far south as French Guiana and Suriname in South America
where bills are settled in euros, guilders and sometimes gold. And in Antigua,
a tiny Eastern Caribbean island with a population of 80,000, it's estimated
that there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Dominicans.
One case study points to the battery of issues affecting sex work in the
region-the symbiotic relationships that are largely ignored. Poverty. Gender.
Legislation. The movement of people. Complicity of the authorities. Harassment
by the authorities.
Participants in the CVC meeting agreed that the starting point to addressing
our shared issues is having sex work be treated as work and ensuring that sex
workers, including migrants, be treated equitably by national health and social
services. But it's up to national agencies to tailor strategies to the
idiosyncrasies of their sex scenes.
In the dry Dutch island of Curacao there's a 50-year-old bordello called Campo
Alegre, Happy Fields. Migrant sex workers may be licensed to work there for
three months and must wait another three before returning. They're tested on
arrival and given weekly check-ups. But beyond those fields sex work remains
unregulated and underground. There are bars scattered around the island where
sex can be purchased as well as from the odd male or female walking the street.
It's an irony worth attention, says Mario Kleinmoedig.
French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana all have remote gold mining towns where
women gather in brothels to service miners. The promise of gold is alluring.
The reality is often oppressive. Pierre Sissaoui of Estrades Guyane says his
organisation's outreach services target street-based sex workers in the capital
of French Guiana, Cayenne. But there's no way to get to the girls and gold.
"There are no roads to those areas," he said.
Many Haitians work their way down to French Guiana. In Haiti, though sex work
is not illegal prostitutes face harassment from the police. De facto
criminalisation. While in other countries sex workers are hesitant to leave the
trade for other jobs, Johanne Philogene of FORSEF revealed that it's different
"Women could often earn more from traditional vocations," she says. Part of
FORSEF's response is the formation of empowerment clubs that provide tuition in
literacy, computers and advocacy. The NGO also runs sex worker specific centres
in red light areas. Working girls are trained as peer educators so they run the
"There are 150 to 250 visits to each centre each day," Csete said.
Caleb Orozco of the Pan American Social Marketing Organisation (PASMO) in
Belize says that the internet has changed the way sex workers source clients.
"There are male sex workers who make contact with customers weeks before they
come into the country... customers from as far away as Australia." He also
spoke about a great deal of movement, with sex workers moving to hot spots for
stints then heading north to rest.
Novelette Douherty-Reid of Jamaica AIDS Support also spoke of internal
migration. Girls from the south of the island often work the tourist-centric
areas up north she says. Many give their families the impression that they're
employed in hotels. The girls at the go-go clubs who sell sex off-stage are
worlds apart from the street-based workers selling sex in Kingston.
Interventions are easier with the club-based workers but more desperately
needed by the girls on the street.
In the Dominican Republic COIN has honed its approach over 20 years. It
organises a peer education program that delivers monthly messages to groups of
sex workers on a range of issues including domestic violence, HIV, and the need
to participate. There's a condom socio-markeing programme in which sex workers
themselves conduct the sales. And how-to workshops are used to demonstrate
techniques for integrating condom-use into love-making.
It seems, at first glance, that Santo Domingo's has a unique sex work scene.
The reality, however, is that their lessons can be applied anywhere.