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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sex Till You Drop


Dr. Lester CN Simon

We are going through a very difficult period in our history. It seems we will wander in the political and social wilderness for many more years until we can meaningfully correct some of the wrongs we have inflicted on ourselves. This wandering seems certain because some of us are hell bent (or heavenly bent) on quick solutions to some very difficult problems, like prostitution.

The members of the clergy who asked the Prime Minister to fix the prostitution problem in Antigua and Barbuda are lazy and short sighted. This is not the first time they have so spoken. This is not the first time a Prime Minister has allowed the police alone to try to fix this illegal problem. This is not the first time prostitutes have been deported after midnight or early morning raids. This is not the first time prostitutes were ejected from known houses of prostitution, only to end up in unknown houses of prostitution.

There is no single, simple solution to end prostitution. Recently, there was much talk about street pastors. Where are they? The pastors must leave their pulpits and go outside and inside the houses of prostitution. Doctors and other members of the health team and social workers must do the same.

Let us try to predict the future of prostitution in Antigua and Barbuda. This is not as difficult as it seems. After the last police raids of the known houses of prostitution, many years ago, many of the prostitutes seamlessly merged with the rest of community. They continued to ply their trade with little or no attention from the medical fraternity. This was very different from the excellent, early work we had started in education about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and condom distribution. Our underlying aim was to try to get the prostitutes and their clients to realise that the practice of prostitution had become a very dangerous and potentially deadly undertaking. At the same time, we had to deal with the reality of prostitution.

In the early days of the HIV program, we learnt a lot about our society from the prostitutes, as some of them were very good listeners to the plights of their customers. We also learnt a lot about our program as we got regular feedback from the prostitutes. In fact, a prostitute chided us about the types of condoms we were distributing and blamed us for the lack of condom usage by their clients. At that time, the language barrier initially prevented proper understanding of her complaint. However, as an indication of how sex is not retarded by language, she gestured wildly and exclaimed in resigned exasperation, “Condom no good; condom no right; Antiguan man: donkey condom…...donkey condom!”

One of the important lessons we learnt was that prostitution, like so many other professions, has a hierarchal system. Some prostitutes will attend to only the crème de la crème client. Others will go with just about anybody; and there are the in-between ones that will buckle on a bad night. The high-class prostitutes do not need the known houses of prostitution. They can sell their wares from their homes by secret, private connections and contacts or you may opt for delivery service.

So what is the future of prostitution in Antigua and Barbuda? Consider the fact that after the last police raid in February 1990, there were very few cellular phones in Antigua and Barbuda. These days, everyone including dog and ….( don’t say it) has a cellular phone.

We will soon see a plethora of escort, call girl (and call boy) prostitution services. In fact, such services already exist. These are for the well-to-do prostitutes and clients. As an article about male prostitution in the Daily Observer noted some time ago, these high-class prostitutes value their high-class clients and they make sure they are tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

What do you think will happen when the common prostitute enters the escort service or simply distributes her cellular phone number and lies down on her back at home, with no medical tests, waiting for her clients to come?

It is most remarkable that the complaints about prostitution from the pastors come at a time when they are concerned about paying taxes. Some people are reminding them that they should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar. Similarly, the pastors, the police, the medics, the social workers and all of us should render unto prostitution the stark realities of prostitution. Get the street pastors working, let the police do their job yes, but get the health team, social workers and others on the job as well. Prostitution is based on demand and supply. There will be little or no success by simply trying to reduce the supply of prostitutes.

It is noteworthy that a common prostitute might be a better judge than a pastor of the way to curtail and control prostitution. It may take a prostitute to tell us that, unlike the sexual act in prostitution, controlling prostitution is not a quick fix; not a one-night stand like the raid carried out by the police. When Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina are no longer round the corner posing, you can bet your life Pastor that the same song and dance will continue selling. In fact, Pastor, ‘the party now start’.