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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Heads Up. Heads Down.


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Sometimes, when, to your embarrassment and dismay, you cannot use the big stick, you have to bow to pragmatism and use your head. It is almost always difficult to talk honestly and frankly about prostitution because commercial sex is a very hot and emotive issue. In such discussions we tend to discard our common sense in the heat of the argument as eagerly as some clients try to discard or plead for the discarding of a condom during sexual intercourse with a prostitute; and we all know the consequences of that. Why waste time debating if we should decriminalize or legalize prostitution in Antigua and Barbuda? As we say here, “Arwe dun do um aready”.

The next time you see someone soliciting a prostitute, ask them to ask her what is her wildest, most outlandish fantasy. As you excitedly await the response with your racing heartbeat, sweating palms and bulging eyeballs, you might be deflated to discover that all she fantasizes about when she closes her eyes is a cozy house and a family.

When we discuss prostitution, we have to regard the international reports as well as the local circumstances. The United Nations 2006 report on the global AIDS epidemic (hereafter called The Report) is compulsory, sobering reading. One of its chapters addresses four key populations that are at risk and are neglected. One such population is the commercial sex worker. The confusion and double standard that abound locally are probably reflections of the international muddle and ambiguity. Many years ago, the term prostitute was replaced by commercial sex worker. In May 2006, the UN advised that the term commercial sex worker is a tautology, which means saying the same thing twice over in different words; e.g. “cold ice water”, “pellucidly clear”, or “piping hot and sizzling sex” with your “wife or girlfriend” that makes her say, “tear off me clothes, rip off me clothes”. The politically and grammatically correct term for prostitute is now simply, sex worker. Since real sex is work, very hard work indeed, one day we will probably recognize the final tautology, remove the word worker from sex worker and end up calling a prostitute a “sexer”.

The nomenclature is important because it shapes our response to prostitution. The Report says that the term prostitute is considered judgmental while the term sex worker focuses on the conditions under which sexual services are sold. It gets more interesting albeit instructive. The Report notes that sex workers have the same human rights as everyone else (of course, they do), particularly “rights to education, information, the highest attainable standard of health”, etc. Here is The Report’s contradiction or oxymoron: sex worker on one hand and the highest attainable standard of health on the other hand. This contradiction is implicit in The Report, which argues that the strategies of successful HIV programmes must be accompanied by programmes to prevent entry into sex work.
We must respectfully disagree with one aspect of The Report in that we have to be judgmental regarding its definitions. Although it is referred to as the oldest profession, prostitution can only be controlled and reduced to a minimum when we accept the judgment of the fact that prostitution is inherently unsafe and unhealthy. By the bye, we will not use the argument a guest used on Observer Radio, in reference to a political matter, that it is wrong because it is not right.

So how do we address prostitution in Antigua and Barbuda? The right to all the human rights that prostitutes justly claim, including education, must include the right to be a significant part of the educational onslaught on HIV and AIDS leading to the exit from or diminution of prostitution. This engagement calls for much more action by the medical profession and others. The irony here is that large amounts of monies are available for work, research and various programmes on HIV and AIDS involving prostitutes. The Report correctly counsels that the work with prostitutes requires their active involvement in all phases of the project, from development to evaluation. In Antigua and Barbuda, the local circumstances dictate that the big stick of official criminalization must remain in place whilst we use our head as a carrot in professional and thorough programmes to reduce or remove this societal ill. To our peril, we are very far from addressing this adequately and yet we are no strangers to ambivalence. The advantage of this twin approach of holding the big stick and using our head should be clear to everyone, especially prostitutes.

The preventative strategy in The Report dictates an urgent and thorough change in the immigration policy and department in Antigua and Barbuda. For the Cricket World Cup, protectionism for the local prostitutes from ambush marketing is the logical extension of proper, local condom usage. The guesstimate is that there are enough prostitutes here for them to realize the realistic part of their wildest, most outlandish fantasy and, with so many balls per over per match, exit the system thereafter.

With all the attention directed at prostitutes we must not take our eyes off a less visible population that is also at risk and neglected: men who have sex with men. The Report employs the term, “men who have sex with men” because, (wait for it) “many men who have sex with men do not regard themselves as homosexual…and many of the men involved are married to women”. This is the bulldozer. Actually, this is the bulldozer, backhoe, roller and lawnmower rolled into one. The dreaded, male “buy”-sexual. If this sounds mind-boggling, consider the sexual orientation of some of the ex-prisoners and inmates of Her Majesty’s prison, where plastic bags are used for condoms, as reported in The Daily Observer. Consider too, the words of the Russian author, Dostoevsky, who said that the degree of civilization in society can be judged by entering the prison. In Antigua and Barbuda, we do not have to lock them up to see the degree of civilization in our society regarding sex; the condom is no condiment, we eating them raw.

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