Exclusive: By Marvin A. Hokstam.A tourism official from the Dominican Republic has called on Caribbean Governments to form a block against the portraying of the region as a place where prostitution is encouraged. Hans Dannenberg, Executive Director of the Puerto Plata Hotels Association mentioned the Netherlands Antilles explicitly in a list of countries where women from his country are lured to, to work in the sex industry. He told this newspaper last week during an interview in Puerto Rico that his country is implementing new laws to protect its women and called on other islands to do the same. “The Caribbean is a very warm place. The climate is hot, the food spicy, the music sensual and ardent, and most of our people are warm. Unfortunately other cultures - which are colder and less passionate about things-, perceive this warmness only sexually,” he reasoned. “But there is much more to us than meets the eye!”
Dannenberg’s statements come on the heels of ongoing efforts undertaken by St. Maarten’s Island Government to regulate the flourishing sex industry on the island. Extensive reports have been compiled about the industry, aimed at understanding it, sizing it up to eventually be able to influence and tax it.
But according to the Puerto Plata tourism official, the Dominican Republic has gone even further. “A new Code of Conduct has been established and implemented by our national hotel Association (ASONAHORES) and sponsored by the Ministries of Tourism, Women Affairs, Works and Foreign Affairs, as well as the National Council for Children,” he said. Many organizations in the Spanish speaking half of Hispaniola have adopted the efforts, which Dannenberg said are directed at addressing, attacking and eliminating sexual exploitation of women and children. “Our regional hotel associations organise seminars for staff members of hotels and resorts and the Government supports and provides logistical assistance so that these seminars can also be offered to the police in the tourism areas. These people need to become aware of this horrible problem and contribute in any way to improve the situation,” he said.
That Dominicano women are widely perceived to be the best in the region for horizontal duty angered him. “We have a population of eight million people, so our influence on the region is strong. There are prostitutes from every country working in the Caribbean, but the size of our population plays a role in the perception. High poverty levels force a lot of our people to leave,” he said.
He explained that as a developing country with a strong influx of tourists, a lot of uneducated people from the rural areas end up prostituting themselves for financial reasons. And, he continued, an average honest local employee might consider accepting an offer to earn something extra.
Some of them, he explained also do it in the hope that they would meet that one person that could help them exit the country. “Not always to enter into prostitution somewhere else, but to find better working opportunities and conditions. It is considered prostitution in some countries, but to people with no other resorts it’s perceived to be a way of creating a bond with that foreigner. They figure that once they have left the country, they are better positioned to financially support their families back home,” stressed Dannenberg.
Also expressing concerns about the threat the problem means to public safety, he also said however that the issue sometimes stretches beyond consented prostitution. “Women, typically from the ages of 18 to 25 are trafficked from our country for sexual exploitation,” he said.
He revealed that during a trip abroad, he once met a woman who was deceived by a foreigner into leaving the Dominican Republic and ended up having to exploit herself to earn money. Often, said Dannenberg, hustlers go to the island only to deceive women. “They tell them they will take them abroad where there is a job waiting as nurse and these women end up working in clubs. Their passports are taken from them and if they are lucky they can leave after they’ve earned the ticket money and interest back for the person who deceived them,” the tourism official said.
He said this happens a lot in Antigua, Turks and Caicos Islands, Curacao, Aruba and St. Maarten. “Some of these islands are not independent territories and depend on their European mother nation for consular and foreign affairs, making the return of the women that have been deceived and trafficked almost impossible. These women consequently become prisoners in those islands,” he said.
The law in St. Maarten condones prostitution, but, just like everywhere else in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, forcing others to prostitute themselves is a crime. If the law would be executed strictly, the close to 200 sexworkers and the many sexclubs on the island could in fact be considered to be operating illegally. Article 259 of the penal code, for instance says that anyone who makes the encouragement the conduct of sex his profession can be sent to jail for a year or pay a NAf 1,000 fine.
Most of the women working in this industry come from the Dominican Republic and Colombia and to a smaller extend from Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Venezuela, the US and East Europe.
Most of the women know before coming to the island that they will be working in the sex-trade and their residence permits are also issued on the basis thereof; however, whether they are aware still makes bringing them over human trafficking.
A report compiled about the industry defines trafficking as “the transport of people (women) over country borders, with as purpose their employment as prostitutes.” And, article 260 says that for trafficking one can be sent to jail for five years. Both articles mentioned date from 1921 and they fit in this era of harsher observation of morals and principles.
But, in recent years, government initiated research into the industry and it has been concluded that a realistic approach is warranted. New conditions are underway and prostitutes, owners of sex clubs and erotic dancers will all be bound by them, making it possible for authorities to keep a lid on the industry and take action against “illegal” activities.
But Dannenberg called for more than regulation of the industry. He said it’s a complex issue that has increased through the rapid development of tourism in many economically deprived communities in the Caribbean. “It’s affecting the entire region. Most of these issues are common issues we all deal with. We need to integrate and become a stronger block against this wrong perception of our region,” he said.
He called for better educational systems throughout the region, which would help create better opportunities for Caribbean nationals, especially in the rural areas. “We need to grow more professionals. Better educated people do not tend to leave their countries that easy,” he said.