St. John’s Antigua- AIDS Secretariat programme manager Delcora Williams has said that prostitution and buggery laws on island are hindering the governmental agency’s fight against the spread of HIV and she is calling for their repeal.
“I am a civil servant and if I condone illegality I am looking to be fired as a civil servant … So here it is that I am going to go out there and give condoms and services (for) something that is illegal and things like these are what prevent an HIV programme from going forward and being successful,” Williams said in an impassioned plea on the Snakepit Thursday.
She added, “If you take it (prostitution and buggery laws) off the books as being illegal then we can offer the services and we can prevent our HIV rate from increasing.”
The civil servant said that buggery — which prohibits penetration by the male organ into the anus or mouth of another person of either sex — is currently illegal in Antigua & Barbuda, but does not stop the act from occurring.
“Presently we do not arrest a man for having consensual sex, even though you catch them at Fort or wherever,” Williams said. “If somebody rapes somebody, it is a criminal act and that person is charged.”
She also took issue with the prostitution laws, saying that they are “not really serving any benefit.”
The programme manager noted that since prostitution is illegal, many commercial sex workers do not disclose their profession to medical practitioners, who, in turn, fail to properly service their patients.
“As a healthcare provider, you don’t know their sexual risk, so you are unable properly educate them and allow them to make proper choices because they are afraid…” she said. “The fear of being prosecuted prevents these persons from being honest…”
Williams said that because of their fear of prosecution, sex workers do not seek medical attention and then “transmit infections that they can actually be prevented from doing, if the laws are removed and they can be honest.”
According to the AIDS programme manager, prostitution establishments are well known on the island and the agency’s ability to legally interact with the workers is essential to the war against HIV/AIDS.
“We need to critically look at what these laws are doing and what purpose they are serving. Don’t we all know where the houses of prostitution are? Don’t we all know this is happening at the various houses of prostitution? Do you have to look under a branch to see that prostitution is happening here?” Williams queried.
She noted that non-profit agencies on island are currently the main source of outreach for these affected populations.
“Soon from now, if we do not get some of these laws off (the books) a lot of our men are going to be infected with HIV and a lot of our women are going to infect with it also,” Williams said.
The debate was sparked by recent comments made by evangelist Alister Jackson, who denounced dialogues calling for the decriminalisation of buggery laws last week.
“I want to warn our leaders in Antigua & Barbuda that it is wrong to decriminalise it,” Jackson said in response to the Untied States President Barack Obama’s support of gay marriage. “I am for it remaining on the statute books and not because we may want to get favour from other nations who have more money than we do.”