ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Decriminalising sex work in Antigua & Barbuda, according to the PRO of the Caribbean Sex Workers Coalition, can help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In an interview with OBSERVER Media, Craig Rijkaard said social standards on the island are putting families at risk, as clients of prostitutes return to their wives or significant others.
“If we are not protecting the sex workers then it means that our families are not being protected and then it means that if you’re talking about the spread of HIV and getting to zero … we are sending one message but doing something else and that definitely isn’t getting to zero,” Rijkaard declared.
The PRO said decriminalisation of sex work in the country is a more immediate and effective course of action, as the process of seeking to reverse current legislation can be an intricate and protracted process.
“We are talking about giving adults that consenting right to choose the professions that they want to choose, in an atmosphere that is equal and they are not being stigmatised because they don’t choose the same profession as someone else,” he noted.
Society on a whole would benefit from the decrimalisation of prostitution, Rijkaard said, regardless of their personal views.
“One (of) the big issues is that persons are going to say they are a religious society and sex work is against the laws that we have. But at the end of the day, we have to respect persons’ human rights and secondly, we have to understand that if we are talking about getting to zero it means that we have to consider all persons across the board.
“So which one do we prefer, to put mechanisms in place to lessen the burden on society or turn a blind eye and society has to pay more?” the PRO queried.
The sex workers’ advocate said discrimination against sex workers has precluded many prostitutes from seeking medical attention and from reporting crimes, such as rape, to the authorities out of fear of being maltreated or prosecuted.
“Fear is one of the causes why we have our HIV epidemic still out there and still going, because we stigmatise and discriminate against certain persons in our society.”
The Caribbean Sex Workers Coalition is a group established in 2008 to protect the rights of women and men in the sex trade against human rights abuses. The coalition consists of both sex worker and their allies.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)