When it comes to human trafficking, Saint Lucia remains dodgy territory. That sentiment was at the heart of an address delivered several weeks ago by Leonard Terrence, Deputy Director at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. For four years Saint Lucia has been on the U.S. State Department’s Tier Two Watch List, a fact that surprised Terrence’s audience at the UWI hosted St Lucia Country Conference, since there have been no reported local prosecutions of human trafficking cases. It turns out that a country can be classified as Tier 2 if “the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; if there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”
The State Department’s Tier 2 List also includes “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.” Terrance’s presentation, entitled ‘Perception of the Prevalence of Human Trafficking (HT)/Trafficking in Persons in St. Lucia and the Measures the Agencies are Implementing to Counteract this Problem,’ sought to give the audience a clearer understanding of the offence, as well as highlight the efforts currently being undertaken to improve Saint Lucia’s international standing.
“Human tracking does not only occur from one country to the next,” said Terrence, “it can occur internally… distance does not matter. What is important is the activity involved. The individual is forced; the individual is threatened; the individual is held against his or her will . . . for what? For the purposes of exploiting that individual. Once you can put these three elements together,” Terrence maintained, “then you have a case.” Terrance noted that cases of human trafficking were often difficult to capture because the data is not always available.
“Individuals often have the finances to subvert justice,” Terrence observed. “The victims themselves may not be forthcoming and sometimes one might confuse between migrants and human trafficking. We see a lot of things happening that signal there might be an issue, but without the proper arrest and prosecution of these individuals we basically don’t know.”
At the recalled session attendants were encouraged to speak up about their own experiences. One man claimed to have encountered a group of foreign women who informed him they were here to work, but didn’t have their passports. Another said he’d given a ride to a local woman who casually informed him she was on her way to work at a strip club. She revealed, “people like you can’t go there.” The man claimed he was instructed how to dress, and furnished with directions to the strip joint. A female member of Terrence’s audience wondered aloud why the police appeared not to have as much information about local crime as regular residents.
Terrence seemed to go into defense mode: “That particular nightclub you mentioned, well the police closed it down. But guess what? Nobody was charged with human trafficking. Patrons actually visited the club by boat to reach there. It’s not that the authorities don’t have their suspicions. But it’s one thing to suspect and quite another acquiring the evidence that will lead to arrest and successful prosecution.”
There was also the problem of cases taking years to get to court. Terrence said suspects often had the money to hire lawyers who could easily get them off on various technicalities. Often, he expressed, the easiest thing to do was shut down the strip club and hope it didn’t reopen at a new address.
Terrence referenced an incident in Jamaica where the head of the Human Trafficking Unit had experienced great difficulty taking a high-profile case before a judge and jury. “He put his life on the line,” said Terrence. “He had to fly from Jamaica to Guyana, then to Trinidad to get affidavits . . . Such travel costs money, investigations cost money . . . money that police agencies don’t have.”
Terrence cited a local case of suspected human trafficking currently underway, involving Russians. At one point when business wasn’t going so well, the women were reportedly forced to entice men from the streets in Gros Islet into their club. But there are people behind these women, according to Terrence, men with guns to their heads, so to speak. In suspected human trafficking cases, passports are often taken away, and as compelling as the evidence, the prison deputy director said the cases were no easy matter for the police, under-financed and undermanned as they are.
The question arose: How then to improve Saint Lucia’s Tier 2 standing?
“If we somehow successfully prosecute the current case, it will be a move in the right direction. Secondarily, we have enacted the appropriate legislation. Thirdly, we have a very active committee fighting human trafficking here. As I mentioned, if we can successfully prosecute this on-going case, if we can identify more victims, and if we can rescue one of the victims we can move to a Tier 1 list. But if for whatever reasons we seem to be doing nothing about human trafficking in Saint Lucia, we could become a kind of haven for such crimes. And for us as a nation that will spell disaster.”