On a Friday around 8:30 p.m. a grey Audi pulls into the parking lot of a certain hotel north of Castries. A 20-something-year-old in a shiny, skin-tight, turquoise dress that barely covers her Nikki Minaj booty emerges on six-inch teal-coloured heels from the idling automobile, designer bag held close to her ample chest, and dashes toward the hotel. At the lobby she stops to converse with a uniformed security man. As she turns to walk away, she smiles seductively at the man, then heads for the corridor and the hotel’s elevator. The Audi slowly backs out of the lot and speeds away.
The security officer approaches one of the receptionists at the hotel’s front desk. “Today’s young women,” he chuckles behind his concern,“I just don’t know what’s with them. It’s like they never heard of morals. They’ll do anything for a few extra bucks!” He claims to know well the young woman he’d been talking with minutes earlier, as well as her parents. “Good people,” he says. “I remember seeing them two or three years ago in church with their young daughter, before she got her bank job and the recession took her parents out of their sales business. It would kill them to know what Bubbles does on the side.”
It’s almost 11.30 p.m. when the girl re-enters the hotel lobby on black pin heels. She has on an orange skirt that she would not dare stoop in, not in public, anyway. Her hair is now freshly coiffed, her breasts partially contained in a purple Benetton blouse. She waves in the direction of the reception desk. The security man smiles, waves back, eyes fixed on her barely contained, undulating booty as she slides into the passenger seat of the returned grey Audi. As the car pulls away, the security officer turns his attention to the well-dressed, older gentleman emerging from the hotel elevator.
“What Bubbles sees in that man, I don’t know,” he mumbles. “His wallet, I suppose! Every Friday evening he arrives like clockwork. Then a few minutes later, she does. In my day . . .” He shrugs and walks toward the gentleman who hands him an envelope and then heads toward the parking lot.
Commenting on prostitution in 2013 Saint Lucia’s then police commissioner, Vernon Francois, said: “It’s not easy combating it. It remains a serious challenge, but we remain committed to dealing with it. We are hoping that we can work with government agencies in dealing with prostitution.” Mr. Francois’ statement followed earlier official reports that local prostitution was on the increase, and included children and human trafficking. Addressing the issue just days later, a representative of the Human Services Department blamed the increase on rampant unemployment, the cost of living and lack of opportunity for self-improvement.
Two years later, little has changed. As the cost of living continues to escalate, so does prostitution, with even the employed, such as Bubbles, selling their bodies to make ends meet. Consider the plight of a 32-year-old we’ll call Karen: “I have been employed for practically all my working life. My first job was at a fast food restaurant. Next I was a cashier and then I moved into the hotel sector.” She says she has been employed at the same hotel for the past eight years. She has two boys aged two and six, “but I am not with either of their fathers.” The first left when she told him she was pregnant with her first child. Her second relationship, through which she had her second son, was “just hopeless, it didn’t work.”
She had herself grown up without a father. He walked out soon after he discovered he was about to become a parent. “When my mom went to work,” Karen recalls, “I would be alone with my younger siblings. I would leave the house as soon as she returned from work, just to get some fresh air. I had to study for school, take care of the children and clean the house, though usually my mother cooked before she set out. I met the father of my second son one night when I was out there liming with a couple of girl friends I knew from school days.”
Her mother had Karen late. She is now 64, unattached and unemployed. It’s left to Karen to pay utility bills and buy groceries. She also cares for her mother. “I work six days a week,” she says, “and the money doesn’t go very far. After I pay the more urgent bills, there’s nothing left for my boys or me and my mother has this blood pressure problem. It’s not something I want to do. God knows I am a hardworking woman. But what other choice do I have? I have to! My other siblings are still in school and there is no one to take care of my mother and, like I said, she has high blood pressure.”
Karen dreams of going back to school to study cosmetology “so I can open up my own beauty salon.” Until then, there’s reality. “I meet guys who are attracted to me. They invite me out. Some know well the pressures I am under, so they make me offers I cannot refuse, even though doing so makes me sick. That’s how I manage to pay my bills, take care of my mom. I am very thankful I don’t have a daughter. I would hate her to have to live this way, or to be with a man she doesn’t love, just so she and her family can eat. I get so very depressed at times.”
Then there’s Donna: “I have a boyfriend I love very much. I live alone and he has a roommate. He has his own commitments: monthly child support for his kids and the usual bills. Sometimes he’ll ask if I need anything. Most times I say I am all right when I’m not. He believes me because I do baking on the side. But business is slow, especially these days. I work at a supermarket but can barely pay my rent.
“I am 26, I like to go out and have fun, enjoy myself, you know, just to free up. I am seeing another man on the side, an older guy. But he is married with kids. Of course my boyfriend has no clue. I dread what would happen if he should learn the truth.” So much for the promised better days that were supposed to start in 2012. If only those who promised had been truthful enough to identify the vehicle by which the better days would arrive; and it shouldn’t be a grey Audi!