A Senator in St. Lucia Argues for the Decriminalization of Prostitution

Dr. Stephen King, President of SLPPA

After his controversial article was published in the St. Lucia Star, Dr. Stephen King, the President of St. Lucia Planned Parenthood Association, has become an outspoken advocate of the decriminalization of sex work. Dr. King's article was a part of broad local media coverage of this critical issue, with experts weighing in on both sides of the debate. Before you form an opinion, listen to what Dr. King has to say:

The discussion arising out of my answer to a question about whether I support the decriminalization of prostitution has been interesting and vigorous. This debate has encouraged me to write down some of the rationale that convinced me decriminalizing of prostitution is right.

The definition of sex work is controversial. Some studies say having three or more sexual partners in a year for which a person receives money or something of material value is enough to constitute sex work. Our law, in the criminal code, states:

(1) A person who—
(a) knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution;
(b) in any public place persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes, is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for 5 years on summary conviction to imprisonment for 2 years.

Our law further holds any person involved in prostitution -- including procuring, aiding and abetting, trading, owning a brothel, and renting a space for the purpose of prostitution -- all are offenders and can receive a prison sentence.

The existing legal environment and economic pressures in our society have created a sex industry that is widespread, clandestine, unregulated, relatively informal, steeped in corruption, and therefore, dangerous. It is dangerous to persons involved in sex work, clients of sex workers, and the general public. Indeed, the moral fibre of society is undermined by the existing operation of the sex industry. Communities are exposed to this sex industry in the very neighbourhoods in which they live.

I would propose that the policy to address sex work in St. Lucia should aim to do the following:
1. Reduce the number of persons engaged in sex work
2. Reduce the amount of sex work being conducted
3. Protect the human rights and health of sex workers
4. Protect the general public from the negative impact of sex work
5. Eliminate the abuse of children and youth coerced or recruited into sex work
6. Reduce the corruption in the industry

The sex work industry should be “brought into the light.” It should be regulated by laws that support good public health practice and create an enabling environment to achieve the above aims.

To reduce the number of persons engaged, reduce the volume of sex work, and ensure the health and human rights of sex workers, we need to be able to identify them. They need to be comfortable having regular dialogue and participating in health education activities. The health education they receive should include the empowerment of the sex worker to use a condom 100% of the time. Sexually transmitted infections acquired during sexual contact by a client can be passed on to that client’s other sexual partners, who do not fall into the definition of the sex worker's clients.

They need to have access to psychosocial support and substance abuse rehabilitation, as necessary. They need to have access to medical services. They need to be confident in reporting abuse, and we need to support them in preventing and addressing abuse. They need to have safe and decent working conditions.

Alternative income generation is a strategy that can empower sex workers and make them less dependent on sex work. It may even allow them to leave sex work. We need to give them access to skills training and alternative employment. The legal environment must facilitate the above, and the existing criminalizing legal environment is a barrier.

The general public should be protected from unregulated sex work occurring in residential areas. This undermines public decency and exposes persons, such as children, to these activities. A different legal environment can regulate where and in what manner sex work can be done.

The present underground or clandestine nature of sex work also allows for the coercion or recruitment of children and adolescents into the business. It is possible that, with a more educated and united body of sex workers, we can introduce the concept of policing of the industry by the sex workers themselves. The workers can report violations, such as child prostitution, and these offences should be prosecuted. In order to allow the full criminal penalties to be brought to bear, the statements of sex workers who report crime would be critical. Further, publicly regulated sex work would facilitate inspections and investigations that could help reduce such violations. The existing legal environment does not facilitate this.

The sex industry is presently criminally illegal. Yet, it is thriving because of corruption and silence. Laws should be enforced, but the enforcement of the existing law is not done. In fact, if it were applied as written, it would create major problems for law enforcement, the judiciary, and the penal system. The current law makes the sex worker very vulnerable to abuse by clients and employers.

There are best practices all over the world that show how to implement a policy that creates a much better environment, a policy that allows us to love, respect, and protect. Our existing legal environment is a barrier, so my opinion is that we should decriminalise prostitution.

This video clip below features Dr. King speaking to a local news reporter on HTS St. Lucia:

Dr. Stephen King is the President of St. Lucia Planned Parenthood Association. He is also an Independent Senator and the former Chief Medical Officer in St. Lucia.

Photo credit: NSDC

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I understand the point he makes, however, St Lucia FIRST needs to eradicate human trafficking, child prostitution and child abuse.

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