GREAT BAY – The Law Enforcement Council recently presented the Minister of Justice, Edsel Kirindongo, with a report on the enforcement of St. Maarten’s adult entertainment policy, based on inspections between March and June of this year.
The report focuses on the aspects of preventing of and enforcement of crimes that are (often) related to the sex industry, like human trafficking, forced prostitution and exploitation. The inspection revealed suspected financial crimes, like money laundering and tax evasion relating to operators in the industry, but these criminal activities fall beyond the scope of the report.
The adult entertainment policy refers to administrative and a criminal both, where the administrative part is performed by the departments or services of Immigration, Labor, Public Health, Economic Affairs, VROMI, Tax and Customs. These conduct so-called multi-disciplinary inspections.
The police are hardly involved (anymore) with this control mechanism and say that clubs usually have advance knowledge of an imminent inspection.
The prosecutor’s office has no role with the controls either so the enforcement of the policy becomes an administrative task.
Although multi-disciplinary controls are conducted with the participation of all departments and services concerned, the Council found that there is no overall approach to it. On the administrative side, each department only considers its own basic points of interest along with a standard list of checks.
The Immigration department is the only department checking on human trafficking. And while the latter demands monitoring by highly skilled professionals, none of the inspectors are trained in detecting signs of human trafficking, forced prostitution or exploitation. The Council deems it essential that personnel be provided with adequate training.
The Law Enforcement Council notes discrepancies between general controls and those performed at brothels, particularly those conducted in connection with the work permits, underlying labor agreements and with regards to payroll inspections.
Although briefing for a multi-disciplinary operation is held two hours preceding the inspection, the Council’s report indicates that clubs are usually aware of an imminent inspection and are able to make preparations. The Council is concerned about this undermining occurrence.
Enforcement on the criminal aspect focuses on human trafficking and exploitation. The criminal enforcement is left entirely up to the police and the prosecutor’s office, but they do not receive feedback about the inspections. The report also reveals that, according to many, criminal enforcement should be applied as an ultimate measure, only where the administrative enforcement is not adequate or successful. The establishment of the special unit Human Trafficking in 2015 is seen as an important step in the right direction.
Whereas the administrative departments or services indicate that the inspected clubs are usually very cooperative and compliant with regulations, the criminal investigations indicate that in each investigation that has been or is being performed, facts of misconduct have surfaced. These include financial exploitation, physical and sexual abuse, forced prostitution and human trafficking.
The contradictory visions indicate that enforcement is a separate issue in this field. The Council concludes that the responsibility of government, in this situation, demands an integral approach, with a functioning chain of judicial enforcement.
The enforcement of the policy, in general, lacks consistency. In addition, changes were made in last couple years (2011-2016) from the time of establishment of the policy and the current version. The explanation for some of those changes could not be supported with documentation or justified reasons. Examples are the increase in the number of tolerated brothels, going from 6 to 12. Another example is the adjustment of the minimum age for a sex worker, being lowered from 25 to 21 years of age, while the labor law indicates a minimum age of 25 for foreign workers. The National Reporting Bureau for Human Trafficking states in its brochures that a foreigner under the age of 25 (engaged as a sex worker) is an indication for human trafficking.
The Law Enforcement Council notes the introduction of a standard form of a labor agreement. It is found that several paragraphs, are either in conflict with the law or indicate a high risk of exploitation as such. Left aside the question whether the conditions in the agreement are reasonable, the fact that the effect or compliance with the labor agreement is not checked, combined with the information from all correspondents that the working relation in practice is different than the agreement stipulates, is an indication that the presence of such an agreement appears to be a mere formality. These apparent inconsistencies have raised concerns, since the issuance of permits is an integral part of control, according to the Council.
Finally, the policy highlights that in cases of violations of the conditions stipulated in the policy, or in the event of an illegal activity, a club shall be closed and permits revoked. However, it appears that even though numerous severe illegal activities have surfaced in various establishments, those clubs have not been closed by authorities.
A problematic issue is the absence of an adequate facility such as a shelter, refuge or care center for the victims of exploitation or human trafficking. The report indicates that this complicates adequate law enforcement as well as the prosecution of suspected criminals.
The Council therefore concludes that the enforcement of the policy is not aimed at all its material objectives.
A new policy is (soon) to be expected from government, where the Penal Code prescribes the regulation of brothels by means of a permit. The regulation to implement this law is not yet in place.
The report ends with six recommendations made to the Minister of Justice. It is recommended that the complete and overall constellation of laws and regulations be put in place and that current and future policy be evaluated.
Another recommendation is that a working chain collaboration, exchange of information and feedback be encouraged while effective controls and strict enforcement of the laws and rules should be imposed.
With regards to personnel, the council recommends that adequate training be provided.
The Council moreover recommends the establishment of adequate facilities for the care of victims of human trafficking and exploitation.
For a detailed reading of all findings and conclusions of the inspection on St. Maarten’s adult entertainment industry, the report can be found on the Council’s website, www.raadrechtshandhaving.com.
Photo caption: Casa Blanca is one of the brothels under investigation. File photo Today / Milton Pieters