Health Minister speaks out on prostitution debate!

Health Minister Alvina Reynolds

For the first time since Dr Stephen King started the debate on decriminalization of prostitution, Minister for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations shared her views with the STAR.
Speaking after a Praise and Worship Service in celebration of International Women’s Day at Serenity Park last Thursday, Alvina Reynolds told the STAR she is paying close attention to the debate and she recognizes the presence of the stigma and discrimination in St Lucia.
“This is the root of some of the issues that confront men who have sex with men and commercial sex workers in our society,” she said.
She added: “We need to deal with the issue of stigma and discrimination. We need to continue the process of education that started under the World Bank project, we need to go through every nook and cranny, every government and private sector to ensure all persons are treated equally in this country; they have equal access to health care, services information and support.”
Reynolds said the situation that has been identified and debated about in the last few weeks can be dealt with in terms of dealing with HIV and AIDS issues. And one of the ways she pointed out was through education.
“We have come a long way and there is so much more to be done; there is still a level of ignorance, fear because of the lack of knowledge. There is still a problem with people changing their attitudes towards persons who are HIV positive and even men who have sex with men.”
She further stated this is an attitudinal issue and not necessarily a problem with the laws of the country: “Decriminalizing may not necessarily mean attitudes will change and there are a number of ways to help women come out of their situation; there is providing other forms of employment. We can make sure our health sectors understand the role they play when they come to work. So whoever wants to get access to health care can do that and if they don’t they have a place to go where they will get that service without being discriminated.”
The Gender Relations minister admitted there are many issues dealing with the whole idea of decriminalization of prostitution and why some persons think it should be done but added: “It is good to listen to what people are saying and it is also good to balance as well. What we can do is to continue the discussion . . . I have remained silent on the issue deliberately for some time to continue to listen to what persons are saying and to begin to look at the position of the Ministry of Health or the policy of the Ministry of Health and the policy is that everybody should have equal access to health care.”
Reynolds indicated the need to meet with all groups who are affected such as “men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers and even those who are representing them to have a dialogue to hear what their experiences are and what they are saying before we can begin to put the laws in place or change laws and things like that.”
She said: “We need to begin to think outside the box and be more creative in ways of finding solutions to our problems rather than changing laws according to how things happen but I believe in the process of consultation, listening and also in problem solving, we need to be creative in looking for solutions that will work for the majority of the population; the laws affect the majority of the population.”
Meanwhile, Dr Stephen King says although the debate spontaneously came about when HTS’ news reporter Sarah Peter posed the question outside of Parliament after being sworn in as an independent senator, he will remain unchanged on his position on the matter.
“I do not want to send any messages that prostitution is correct or right, it is not but the point is it is thriving, it is in the country and we need to do something about it—we need to put the programs that can address it; the programs that can deal with the root causes of the prostitution which is to me, sex abuse as well as poverty.”
Dr King explained there is a difference between the call for decriminalization of prostitution and decriminalization of the prostitute: “My contention is that one clause that should be decriminalized; that is the prostitute living on the earnings—clause 151.”
He further added: “The act of sex is not the problem in the law—it is a moral problem but the legal problem is receiving money and the point is because the person receives money both the client and the person are complicit in that act; that is why I think the law is actually ludicrous. The prostitute should not be criminalized but rather the client should— the prostitute should be seen as a victim and we should put programs in place to help these individuals.”
When the STAR asked Dr King what he thinks the outcome of this issue will be, the loquacious senator smiled before saying; “I suspect the resistance to decriminalization of 151, which is the prostitute, is probably the majority—so I suspect that may not happen.
“However, that does not mean that I will stop advocating for it, I will also advocate for the social policy and maybe what might happen is we may come up with a decision to implement social policy regardless of the law and just forget the law— let’s just ignore the law and just implement a social policy together with the church and the state and everybody.
“That might be a compromise that we might reach and even if the government of the people continue to ask for the prostitute to be decriminalized, I will still advocate until the government can put the programs in place to empower those vulnerable people.”

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