Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Kirk Humphrey has not been swayed from his view that prostitution must be decriminalised to protect those involved in the industry even after strong objection from former Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley.
The minister stressed that there are many women who make the choice to become involved in the sex trade and have the right to be protected.
“I am not saying it is right, it is what it is, but I am just telling you to offer that as a response, it is not to fully understand the dynamics of the situation. And my responsibility as the minister responsible for people remains to protect all people. Is it going to be a popular position? Probably not, but it is mine,” he said.
Atherley publicly declared that he will not support any move to decriminalise sex work in Barbados and that he was sticking to his belief that people should engage in decent work and that Barbados should be finding ways to avoid people falling into despair and turning to prostitution in the first place.
However, Minister Humphrey said Bishop Atherley should be fully aware that sex work has been part of the Barbadian society for a long time, and may very well be around for sometime in the future.
“Joe (Rev. Atherley) was in the government for a long time. When Joe was in the government as a parliamentary secretary, wasn’t prostitution happening? When Barbados had Errol Barrow and other prominent leaders wasn’t prostitution happening? When Barbados was booming on economic activity, wasn’t prostitution happening?
“That is an incomplete analysis, meant perhaps to perpetuate one’s own position, but it does not reflect the reality of things. Show me a country where the people are living well and there is no prostitution,” Humphrey said.
“I know that in my constituency, I have heard of women being robbed on the street, raped on the street, women being abused and all kind of things because they are on the street. If it is that being on the street is a crime, then somebody should be taking them off the street.
“If being on the street is not a crime, then nobody has the right to go and harm them when they are on the street. And even if it is a crime, it does not give another person the right to do another crime,” Humphrey added.
However, while making it clear that he understands that sex work is happening in Barbados, Atherley said he does not believe decriminalising it is the answer to preventing acts of violence against those involved in the illegal trade.
Furthermore, Minister Humphrey also indicated that as a former student of social policy, he believes that human development is about expanding people’s choices, which involves influencing the choices to do the things that are healthy for society, and then at times protecting people because they have made a choice.
He said he feels the same way regarding drug addicts, who made a choice, but should be protected even though their consequences may be dire.
“Bush Hill, as I said before, happens to be in St Michael South and I care about everybody who is in St Michael South and as a result they become my constituents and therefore I have to look out for them. So I respect the opinion of the church, but I know that it is not every church that holds that view.
“I also respect Bishop Atherley’s opinion, but my opinion has been and it remains that we have to be able to protect all people. I was very clear that it is not the business that I prefer, but it is the reality of things,” he said.
Following the death of sex worker Caroline Baird, who was shot behind the Grand Stand of the Garrison Savannah in the area of Bush Hill, St Michael on July 22, adult entertainment advocate Charles ‘Charlie Spice’ Lewis renewed his call for prostitution to be decriminalised and also urged authorities to develop a regulatory framework for the protection of workers that includes providing safe spaces for them to operate.
In response to Lewis’ call, Humphrey said he is willing to work with anybody, those who agree with him, and the people who do not, to create a plan to chart the path to decriminalising the trade in Barbados.
“I am not favouring any one person, because they agree with me. In fact, you tend to learn a lot more from the people who don’t agree with you. So I am keen to work with the churches, I am keen to work with Joseph Atherley and anybody just to expand my own understanding of the scenario. I am keen to work with the people who find my position to be of some value. Let’s come to the table and talk,” Humphrey said.