Report paints grim picture regarding enforcement of rules in sex industry

~ Clubs are tipped off about inspections ~

PHILIPSBURG–A Law Enforcement Council report on the enforcement of the policy governing the adult entertainment industry in St. Maarten paints a grim picture of the manner in which the policy governing the industry is enforced.

  The report is based on an inspection conducted from March through June that focused on two areas in the sex industry: administrative and crime. The inspection and report focused on the enforcement of the policy in the sex industry as well as preventing crimes such as human trafficking, forced prostitution and exploitation. The Council said the inspection had revealed suspected financial crimes such as money laundering and tax evasion by operators in the industry.

  According to the report, the police are seldom involved (anymore) with this control mechanism, noting that clubs are usually tipped off about inspections before they occur.

The Prosecutor’s Office has no role in the controls. The enforcement of the policy therefore becomes an administrative task.

  Although multi-disciplinary controls are conducted with the participation of all departments and services concerned, the Council found during its investigations that there is no overall approach to this exercise. On the administrative side, each department or service takes into consideration its own basic points of interest along with a standard checklist.

  Multidisciplinary inspections are conducted by representatives of the Immigration, Labour, Public Health, Economic Affairs, VROMI, Tax and Customs Departments.

  The Immigration Department was found to be the only department checking on human trafficking. And while the Immigration Department inspections should be conducted by highly skilled professionals, none of the inspectors are trained in detecting signs of human trafficking, forced prostitution or exploitation. The Council believes that it essential that personnel be provided with adequate training.

  The Law Enforcement Council said also that there were discrepancies between general controls and those performed at brothels, particularly those conducted in connection with the employment permits, labour agreements and payroll inspections. Although briefing for a multidisciplinary 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 said it is “concerned” about this “undermining occurrence.”

  Enforcement of the criminal aspect focuses on human trafficking and exploitation. The criminal enforcement is left entirely up to the Police Force and the Prosecutor’s Office, neither of which receives 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 Human Trafficking Unit in 2015 is to be commended as an important step in the right direction, the Council said in a press release on Friday.

  While clubs are usually very cooperative and compliant with regulations, there is evidence of misconduct in criminal investigations. These include financial exploitation, physical and sexual abuse, forced prostitution and human trafficking. 

  The Council says 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,” the Council said in its release.

  “Examples are the increase in the number of tolerated brothels, going from six to 12. Another example is the adjustment of the minimum age for a sex worker, being lowered from 25 to 21 years of age. This while the 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 of human trafficking.”

  As it relates to the introduction of a standard labour agreement for commercial sex workers, the Council said several paragraphs were either in conflict with the law or indicated a high risk of exploitation.

  “The question whether the conditions in the agreement are reasonable, the fact that the effect or compliance with the labour 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,” the Council said.

  The Council said also that while the policy indicates 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 its permits revoked, 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 that was encountered is the absence of an adequate facility such as a shelter, refuge or care centre for the victims of exploitation or human trafficking,” the Council said.

  The report said 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.”

  According to the Council, a new policy is expected to be put in place to regulate adult clubs by means of a permit.

  In its report the Council recommends that “the complete and overall constellation of laws and regulations be put in place” and that current and future policies be evaluated. Another recommendation is that a working system of collaboration, exchange of information and feedback be encouraged while effective controls and strict enforcement of the laws and rules be imposed.

  With regard to personnel, the Council recommends that adequate training be provided and that adequate facilities for the care of victims of human trafficking and exploitation be established. 

  The complete report can be found on the Council’s website . 

  The Law Enforcement Council presented a copy of the report to Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo recently.

Source: The Daily Herald