News

Nude dancing, sex on stage are crimes

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau

Sunday, September 25, 2005    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth - Sophia Brown and Nardia Webb insist that while they have danced nude at numerous exotic night clubs across Jamaica for years, they never knew they were breaking the law.

Their current employer, mild-mannered Myrna Hewitt, who has been in the night club business for many years, said she was also ignorant of the law relating to indecent exposure which falls under the Town and Country Act.

All three and numerous others at the Supreme night club on the Manifest Plaza in Santa Cruz were shocked into awareness of the law when Brown and Webb were arrested for indecent exposure.

This, after police found them on stage with their genitals exposed.

As it turned out the two women spent five days in a police lock-up before being fined $1,000 each and released last Wednesday at the Black River Resident Magistrate's Court.

"Me never hear bout dat yet. Me never know say police can lock me up fi dance naked on stage," said Brown, a 31-year-old mother of a 10-month-old boy.

Webb, a 29-year-old mother of four, said she had been under the impression that once dancers stayed within the confines of the club and did not venture outside, nudity didn't matter.

A perplexed Hewitt said that having felt the effects of competition from other clubs in the Santa Cruz and wider St Elizabeth area, featuring "freaky nights" with "live sex" on stage, she could not believe that the law had a problem with nude dancing.

But for Deputy Superintendent Maurice Robinson, head of police operations St Elizabeth, who led the raid at the Supreme nightclub on Friday, September 16, it is simply a matter of carrying out a mandate handed down from the very top.

Acting on instructions from police commissioner Lucius Thomas in July, police in St Elizabeth, under the overall command of Superintendent Fitzgerald Barrett, now take a zero tolerance approach, targeting 'go go' clubs believed to be breaching the laws governing their operation.

The directive from the police high command follows a report by the US State Department in June which accused the Jamaican government of not doing enough to prevent human trafficking.

Jamaican officials, the report charged, had failed to undertake any significant efforts to arrest and prosecute traffickers who target children.

According to the report, there was evidence of "a thriving commercial sex tourism industry in Jamaica."

It said young girls were employed as masseuses, barmaids and dancers, and forced into prostitution by 'dons', shop owners and night club operators who benefited from trafficking activities.

It also pointed to the existence at the time of a trade in young girls in Culloden, Westmoreland.

An investigation by the Sunday Observer subsequently confirmd the trade at Culloden which police say has since been crippled.

Prompt response from the Jamaican police, including the current campaign in St Elizabeth, apparently influenced the US decision announced last week to lift Jamaica's ranking on human trafficking.

The State Department's decision to lift Jamaica's ranking from the hazardous three-tier to a two-tier watch list is said to have removed the risk of economic sanctions.

In traditionally conservative St Elizabeth, police over the last two months have focused much attention on cases of prostitution at night clubs. Prostitution is illegal in Jamaica.

Importantly too, police have sought to identify minors - girls under 18 years old - working in these clubs; as well as disorderly conduct by dancers, including sexual activity and nudity, while on stage or while mixing with patrons.

Robinson told the Sunday Observer on Wednesday that since mid-July, 26 raids had been carried out on "16 selected night clubs" in St Elizabeth.

Ten women (exotic dancers) were taken into custody for age verification, four were arrested for indecent exposure in a public place. Another was arrested for 'soliciting for the purposes of prostitution'.

Not surprisingly, police say, the latter case was dismissed for lack of evidence. Police say cases involving prostitution are notoriously difficult since proof often requires the cooperation of the person solicited.

Two of those charged with indecent exposure after police allegedly found them dancing naked, have pleaded not guilty and are to appear in court on October 21.

Robinson said that during the police operations, men were also "interviewed" and 100 knives and "other implements" were seized.

He identified the two most frequently targeted clubs for police operations as Frontline in Crawford on the St Elizabeth/Westmoreland border operated by Vassell Maylor and the Safari night club at Crane Road in Black River, run by Pete James.

On September 1, James was actually charged for breaches of the Spirit Licence Act, allegedly for selling alcohol without a license.

Also on September 1, police discovered what they believed was proof that the activities at Culloden had been transferred to Black River.

During a raid on the Crane night club at around mid-day, the police say they discovered a gathering of over 50 women and 15 men.

The women, whom the police believe were being recruited as exotic dancers, ran on the approach of the cops. Six were held and checked for 'age verification' before being released, while the men were also interviewed. Reports say the police campaign has led to the closure of two clubs in the Lacovia area.

But Robinson and others in the police high command make the point that the police must be wary of "crossing the line" since there is no law against exotic dancing. And as such, they say, there is nothing to prevent club owners from recruiting dancers in a public place.

The law is broken when such dancers are recruited for prostitution and when minors are lured into the business.

Robinson, a "proud, practising Roman Catholic", insists that while the dancers are the ones who most often fall afoul of the law, the real culprits are those club owners who "unscrupulously manipulate young girls."

Said he: "During recruitment, these women from mostly very poor backgrounds, are promised large sums of money only to find when they are on the job that the large sums are not forthcoming. It is believed that some of these women are encouraged to become sexually involved with patrons to supplement their incomes."

His belief that the "big men" - the club owners and operators - are the real wrongdoers, has led Robinson to "seek advice as to how (if it can be done) they can be prosecuted under the law re indecent exposure."

In the meantime, said Robinson, the police in St Elizabeth will continue to "wage a relentless campaign against those unscrupulous persons who seek to manipulate young women and children for their own immoral and selfish reasons."

The obvious ignorance of the law among exotic dancers, as exhibited by Brown and Webb, has also touched a nerve.

According to Robinson, the situation cries out for a public education campaign.

"Young women who become engaged in exotic dancing, need to know that their breasts and genitals must be covered at all times," said Robinson.

"They must also know that they should not be engaged in sexual activity on stage or with patrons during their working hours at the club," he added.

He suggested that a campaign to lift the awareness of exotic dancers on the 'do's and don'ts', could also be incorporated in the campaign against sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS which is taking on epidemic proportions in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

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