Keynote at Barbados Trafficking Lecture Calls For Decriminalisation

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Regional Correspondent North America and Caribbean
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Dr. Kamala Kempadoo made local news in Barbados after calling for the decriminalisation of sex work in the Caribbean.

Barbados Today reports that the Guyanese-British professor at Toronto’s York University delivered the Sir Arthur Lewis Distinguished Lecture on the 31st of March, 2016. The lecture was given at Frank Collymore Hall in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Kempadoo called on Caribbean governments to reconsider current definitions of human trafficking and sex slavery that conflate sex work with trafficking.

“The decriminalisation of prostitution would go a long way towards making the sex trade a safer place to work,” Kempadoo said.

Kempadoo has long studied the effects of human trafficking laws on sex workers in the Caribbean. She is the author of a number of books on the subject, including Sun, Sex, and Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean (1999) and Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labour (2004).

She told the audience that decriminalisation, “could eliminate underhand deals, it could eliminate extortions, false promises, the criminalisation of sex workers by immigration, smuggling of persons. It could eliminate shady businesses and it could allow working women to gain access to state protection, health care and rights as any other citizen or legal migrant.”

“We need more complex conceptualisations to sexual labour, and of the ways in which women participate in sexual economic activities; as well as more critical examinations of ideologies about sexuality in order to dispel the moral indignation and stigma that surrounds sexual economic relations,” she went on to say.

She called particular attention to the ways that US State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) reports force Caribbean governments to enact laws harmful to women. NSWP’s Briefing Paper #03, Sex Work is Not Trafficking, summarises many of the harms associated with conflating sex work with trafficking. Loss of work, threats to safety, and victimisation at the hands of police are just some of the problems commonly associated with anti-trafficking laws.

“The rhetoric and practice of anti-trafficking need to be exposed for the violence it visits on marginalized communities, particularly young and migrant women,” she said.

In place of anti-trafficking laws, Kempadoo suggested existing labour laws be used to protect women in the sex industry. According to Barbados Today, she pointed to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, both of which have already been ratified by Barbados.

“Who benefit from the anti-trafficking industry that is being created? Whose interest does it serve? Is anti-trafficking creating more trafficking by trying to keep people in states of unfreedom, denying the possibility of making a better living for themselves, preventing them from employing their sexual labour in ways that benefit them the most; keeping them locked in poverty and inequality forcing them to stay at home, go underground limiting women’s autonomy?” Kempadoo asked.