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The Caribbean: History of the Sex Trade & Sex Workers

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The Caribbean: History of the Sex Trade & Sex Workers

The Sex trade can be traced back to Sumerians and Babylonians. According to Sir James Frazer in his book The Golden Bough "In Phoenician temples women prostituted themselves for hire in the service of religion, believing that by this conduct they propitiated the goddess and won her favour "It was a law of the Amorites, that she who was about to marry should sit in fornication seven days by the gate."..."

It was considered sinful by all religious entities. The Roman Catholic Church exhibited some tolerance to the sex trade, with the aim of preventing the bigger evils of rape and sodomy. Regulations against the sex trade increased across Europe after the outbreak of Syphilis in Naples during the 15th Century. Sex trafficking increased across the world in the 19th Century. The trade boomed in the latter half of the 20th Century as a result of globalization and Western Tourism. When it comes to the Caribbean region however, the sex industry has taken stride in three main areas; Barbados, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic--other countries include Costa Rica and Cuba. Apart from the varying situations within a country that leads to such actions influencing the outcomes of Sex-Work as the main source of income to a home, for example, broken homes, disabled parents to say the least; one large factor which encourages the growth of Sex Work is the Tourism sector.

The Caribbean is known for many things, its beaches, expressive culture, music and musical instruments, amongst other things - what the Caribbean is known most for however are its women. Caribbean tourism has been branded and marketed based on the West's imaginary idea of "tropical paradise" (Henshall Momsen 2005, Sheller 2004). As Janet Henshall Momsen points out, "the word 'Caribbean' conjures up Kodak images of azure seas with matching skies framing green palm trees along unblemished white sand beaches, awaiting Robinson Crusoe's footprint" (2005:209). In 1492 Christopher Columbus, the first white tourist, wrote to King Ferdinand, "Sire, these countries far surpass all the rest of the world in beauty" (in Henshall Momsen 2005:209). Henshall Momshen states that "Thus the region's first publicist sold the image of an Edenic, unspoiled paradise to attract investment and visitors half a millennium ago. Little since has diminished tourists' fascination with islands" (2005:209). Lowry (1993) states that tourism advertisers rely on a sign system, informally known as the four S's of tourism advertising: Sun, Sand, Sea and Sex. This has been particularly prevalent in promoting tourism in the Caribbean.

On the "macro level" sex tourism, like colonial relationships, is characterized by economic inequality and the dependence of the Caribbean region on the global North. Caribbean countries, remaining economically marginalized as they were under colonialism, turn to tourism to bring in needed funds and pay off debts. The tourism market is the wealthy nations of the north, and to sell themselves to these consumers the Caribbean region must rely on old fantasies of tropical paradise. The perpetuation of racial stereotypes and fantasies through the imagery of tourism industry marketing... On the micro-level, the importance of race and economic power is revealed on an individual level within intimate relationships, where both men and women of the global north can use their privileged positions to access the bodies of Caribbean natives. These dynamics are perhaps more subtle than under colonial or slavery conditions, but that doesn't mean they are any less wrong, only more insidious. In the Caribbean, impoverished people and impoverished nations sell themselves to the wealthy global north because they have little alternative. And the global north is buying.

Defining Sex as a Form of Labour

The term "sex work" has carried the basic definition of "a person who works in the sex industry; specifically, a person who commercially trades in sex." This trade in sex can be seen as a negotiation as it is possible that the rejection of clients or acts on an individual basis is a likely possibility. In this right sex is in fact a commodity where this 'service' is advertised and prices reflect the pressures of supply and demand. According to an article written in the Jamaican Gleaner (2005); "Sex Work is an age old profession and has--as reality shows us--no signs of disappearing any time soon". Here in the Caribbean region there are three countries most known for their growing sex industry--basically through tourism--these are the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Barbados. Prostitution in Barbados, although deemed illegal by common law and more recently in the sexual offences acts of 1992 and 1998, has been a long, informal yet covert subculture in Barbados. The predominant attitude of the state toward prostitution based on the view that prostitution as an activity is detrimental to the moral fabric of society. However, that is not to say that prostitution is not a culturally accepted practice. Additionally, Caribbean female and male sex workers are socially much more capable of dictating the nature of their sexual encounters with visitors. They are also quick to exploit the radicalized sexual fantasies of Euro-Americans by feeding such myths as that of black hyper sexuality. So tourists are regaled by songs about 'The Big Bamboo' 'Stamina Daddy' or 'Ram Ram' and 'Back Shot', which are sexually suggestive, as one who can perform sexually all night long, as well as preference in sexual acts.

Gender variations on the induction of a sex worker in the Caribbean are relative to prevailing sexual mores or socially acceptable behavior. In the sexually restrictive Catholic countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti (to a lesser extent) sex workers are overwhelmingly female. However in more sexually permissive, English-speaking - Protestant countries, where the mores are more relaxed the roles are reversed. There have been debates and deliberations about the actuality of legalizing or decriminalizing the act of prostitution/sex work. In an article titled "Misquoted on legalization of the Sex Trade" (2008); there was the spread of the misconception that Charles Lewis, President of the Sex Trade Impact organization was calling on Governments around the Caribbean, to legalize the Sex Trade, when--in his defense--this was not so. However, in an article found in the Jamaican Gleaner (2005) there was a call for the legalization of prostitution to control the spread of HIV/AIDS. According to the Gleaner "Sex Work is Work"

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