Dec 25, 2015 News
– Guyana Project forum stresses
Focused on the elimination of violence against sex workers in observance of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the USAID-funded Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) – Guyana Project presented its fourth installment of “Lunch Talk” on December 17.
In recent years, there has been an upsurge of murders, violence, and attacks against sex workers in Guyana. The one-hour lunch-time discussion forum was aimed at addressing these issues with key stakeholders, particularly with the human rights and legal fraternity, and sex workers themselves.
The panelists included Attorney-at-Law Emily Dodson; Board Member of Artistes In Direct Support (AIDS), Cracey Fernandes; Board Member of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), and Miriam Edwards, Director of the Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC). The discussions were moderated by SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues.
THE LEGALITY OF SEX WORK IN GUYANA
Calling it one of the oldest professions in human history, Dodson revealed that sex work – that is exchange of sexual relations for money and other benefits – of itself is not illegal but the activities related to it are prohibited under law. Though there are no references to the term “sex work” in Guyana’s laws, any legislation prohibiting such would be deemed unconstitutional.
Dodson quoted Article 22 (I), “Every citizen has the right to be rewarded according to the nature, quality and quantity of his or her work, equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value, under just conditions of work”; and Article 22 (II) “Every citizen who is able to work has a duty to work.”
Article 149 of the Guyana Constitution sets out that: “no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her right to work.” That is to say, the right to free choice of employment. Dobson further argued that under Guyana’s laws, specifically Sections 165-166 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, does not rule sex work, itself, illegal in Guyana.
“It is a man living off the earnings, running a bawdy house or brothel, and other offenses related to sex work that have been deemed illegal, but the actual sex work is not being deemed illegal.”
Quoting from the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:01 which criminalises: anyone who publicly sells or exposes any obscene book, pamphlet (Section 350); any male person who in public or private, commits or is a party to the commission or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with any other male shall be guilty of a misdemeanour – this holds a two-year imprisonment charge (Section 351); finally, anyone who commits buggery either with a human being or with other living creature shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life (Section 353); It is also an offence to attempt to commit the act of buggery (Section 352).
Commenting on the criminalisation of same-sex intimacy, Dodson opined that whatever is done by consenting adults in the privacy of their homes is nobody’s business. Section 354 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Chapter 8:01 states anyone who does an indecent act in any place to which the public has, or is permitted to have access, or does any indecent act in any place intending thereby to insult or offend any person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. There is a two-year sentence for this offence.
She noted that though there are no offences, that is, no section of the law which prohibits sex work, in court they would refer to vague interpretations that cannot be substantiated; what most cases would be based on is finding a link between sex work and human trafficking, trafficking in persons, holding a brothel, violating the age of consent and statutory rape.
”SEX WORK IS WORK AND WORK IS WORK”
Board Member of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) Cracey Fernandes and Executive Director of the Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC), Miriam Edwards, posited that there needs to be more done to protect sex workers in the society.
Fernandes talked about the work of local and regional organisations in addressing issues affecting sex workers, noting that most advocates employ a human rights-based approach. In his opinion, there needs to be constitutional reform to strengthen the rights of all Guyanese and to foster a more supportive society, he called for a revised understanding of what’s really in the books – the average citizen does not understand the laws and this ignorance fosters intolerance and prejudices.
For him, there is a need for increased public awareness and training for service providers including police and healthcare professionals; Edwards reiterated this call saying that there needs to be more support, cooperation and work with local institutions, particularly the Guyana Police Force.
Giving an example of disdain and reject from police officers to sex workers who were abused by clients, and even some cases where officers themselves commit assaults, Edwards expressed that the Force needs to be educated on the laws and even their sense of responsibility to serve all citizens regardless of their occupation. “Sex work is work,” she said “and work is work.”
Edwards noted that violence and discrimination meted out to sex workers is alarming. “The Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC) advocates for the rights and protection of sex workers. We have to look out for one another,” Edwards said.
She shared a tragic story of a woman being abused by a police officer and left naked and afraid in public. Other times it’s harassment from the public or abuse by their own partners, depression and suicide, as a spin-off. Even intimate partner violence and murders are all factors contributing to the vulnerability of sex workers.
Helping this vulnerable group is not a short-term project, but requires extensive amount of time with focused care, mentioned Fernandes.
Dodson said that services offered by the state to the citizenry regarding support and making reports do not end at the Guyana Police Force; abused or victimised sex workers can go to the Police Complaints Authority, or/and the Office of the Ombudsman to report that their report was rejected and there was nothing being done by state officers.
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