Sex sells and prostitution is one of the world’s oldest professions.
In T&T prostitution is one of the country’s most thriving black-market industries.
In this Guardian Media investigation, we take a look at this hidden industry, which as it turns out, is not that hidden at all.
According to Google Trends, in 2018 T&T is listed as third worldwide for the most “porn” searches.
From 2011 to 2016, T&T was number one on that list.
In 2017, the country slipped into the number two spot and then to number three in 2018.
The island’s obsession with porn may be dwindling, but this may only be because sex for money is so much more easily available as unscrupulous “business people” take advantage of the thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the economic and political crisis in their homeland.
Years ago, “clients” found women in brothels across the country.
Although that part of the industry still thrives, “pimps” are now making prostitutes more accessible than ever.
Thinly-veiled advertisements for prostitutes are in every newspaper, some even with the rates attached.
Guardian Media called several of the numbers listed for “massages”, and without hesitation, the men that answered the calls offered their prices, with one man even offering to and sending 23 photos of Venezuelan women that prospective clients to choose from.
The images showed women in lingerie, in provocative poses flashing huge smiles.
Asked about the cost, he said, “It’s $900 an hour for one person and $1,300 an hour for a threesome.”
He promised that he could bring the “girls” to anywhere in the country that the client wanted.
“I will drop her and wait,” he said.
He did not attempt to conceal that the service he was offering was prostitution and not the “massage parlour” service listed in the advertisement.
Another “massage parlour” offered “nice Spanish” for $500 an hour.
But it’s not just women that are being offered up like meat at a poultry shop.
In tracking a posting for a male doing body massages, Guardian Media was told that the “masseuse” was available for house calls and massages only would cost $300 an hour. When asked what could be added on, he replied, “Anything you want, for $100 more.”
He even promised to throw in an extra half hour of his time for free.
There are also ads targeting gay men, with the promise of “good times” for $300 an hour. The meeting place was listed as a hotel in Princes Town. When Guardian Media reached the number listed, the man who answered confirmed the service was for gay men but said he could get “anyone” a client wants.
Venezuelan women need help
“They told me that I would get work as a waitress, but now they force me to have sex with five men in one night.”
These are the words of an 18-year-old Venezuelan woman who is currently being forced to prostitute herself by a “businessman” who often abuses her. She has been in the country for two months.
She is not identified for her safety, but her plight has been referred to the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU), the unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service that can rescue her and bring charges against the man who is forcing her into this lifestyle.
“He mistreats me, and I have been abused by some clients,” she said. “I do not get any money, please I need help.”
Another Venezuelan woman, fleeing her homeland came to T&T to work and send money back to her family.
This 22-year-old woman admits she was not forced to be a prostitute, but she is seeking help to get out of the lifestyle.
“I came with a friend to Trinidad three months ago because I need to help my family. They do not force me to be a prostitute.”
She said she has sex with up to four men in one night and is paid $300 per encounter. But her “clients” and employers often are abusive towards her.
“Sometimes they mistreat me, and I have been abused by clients, I need some help.”
Counter-Trafficking Unit (CTU) head Alana Wheeler says while prostitution itself is no longer illegal, it is illegal for anyone to profit from “commercial sexual exploitation.”
In an emailed response to questions, Wheeler wrote, “Note that while prostitution is not recognised as a criminal offence in T&T, sexual exploitation or sex trafficking of adults and minors is a criminal offence under the TiPs Act Chapter 12:10. From the TiPs Act, the following are also considered to be trafficking
e) keeping a person in a state of servitude including domestic and sexual servitude;
(f) child pornography;
(g) the exploitation of the prostitution of another;
(h) engaging in any other form of commercial sexual exploitation, including, but not limited to, pimping, pandering, procuring, profiting from prostitution and maintaining a brothel.”
Wheeler explained that the exploitation or the prostitution of others means one person getting money or other benefits from the provision of sexual services for money.
Wheeler provided statistics from 2013 to 2017.
The data shows that over those five years, 32 cases of sex trafficking have been identified in T&T.
“T&T nationals have been charged in all these matters,” Wheeler said.
“In 2013 (year of proclamation of TiPs Act Chapter 12:10)—eight cases of sexual exploitation (adult females from Colombia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic), in 2014—three adult female Venezuelans for sexual exploitation, 2015—seven adult females for sexual exploitation (Venezuelans, Dominican Republic) and one female child for sexual exploitation.
In 2016—one adult female and one minor for sexual exploitation (foreign nationals.) In 2017 – ten adult females and one minor female (Venezuelans and TT nationals.)”
Wheeler said the CTU monitors possible cases of sexual exploitation by working with other arms of law enforcement.
“We also respond to and investigate all reports made via our hotline and from all state and non-state stakeholders (police, immigration, foreign embassies, the public, etc). CTU has investigated reports of child pornography at schools in T&T.”
The US Department of State office to monitor and combat Trafficking in Persons, in their 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report states that over the past five years T&T is a “destination, transit and source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.”
The report notes that women and girls from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Colombia are often lured to the country with offers of legitimate employment and then trafficked and forced to work in brothels and clubs.
It goes on to note, “Because of deteriorating economic conditions in their home country, Venezuelans are particularly vulnerable. LGBTI persons are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Many trafficking victims enter the country legally via Trinidad’s international airport, while others appear to enter illegally via small boats from Venezuela, which is only seven miles offshore. Corruption in police and immigration has in the past been associated with facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking.”
The report states that while T&T’s does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it has made increasing efforts over the past few years.
The report notes that T&T’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Act criminalised sex and labour trafficking and introduced penalties of 15 years to life in prison and no less than $500,000 for those found guilty under this Act.
However, from 2011 to present, although 14 people have been charged under the Act, no one has been convicted as all the cases are still pending before the court.
According to the report, the CTU investigated 38 possible cases of trafficking in 2017, 46 cases in 2016 and 53 cases in 2015.
The report states the CTU, police, health, labour and immigration departments coordinated on 20 joint anti-trafficking operations on “suspected brothels.”
Also, the report said the Attorney General’s office is in the planning stages for a new intelligence-led task force to tackle human trafficking. The new task force is supposed to have input from police, the defence force, the Strategic Services Agency and the CTU.
How you can report trafficking for sex
Wheeler says once a member of the public makes a report of suspected human trafficking for sex, the CTU can provide suspected victims with temporary care and regularised immigration status.
She said the public could report suspected cases and outlined the CTU’s response to these reports.
“Once a report is made to the CTU, an investigation is initiated with statements being taken from the potential/possible victim(s) and witnesses. We need a victim’s statement in order to pursue an investigation that would lead to charges being laid. Witnesses to the crime can also provide statements. Victims and witnesses can choose to co-operate or not cooperate since this is a voluntary process. The potential victim/witness is informed of the process and if a foreign national, they are provided with TEMPORARY care and regularised immigration status during the course of the investigation. The Office of the DPP is consulted at all times and will instruct on charges, if any, to preferred.”
If you know of anyone who is being exploited for prostitution or trafficked for sex, you can provide information anonymously/confidentially by calling the CTU hotline 800-4288 (4CTU), sending an e-mail or speaking directly to a CTU officer.
What the law says
The amended Sexual Offences Act, 2012, states:
17. A person who—
(a) (Deleted by Act No. 12 of 2012);
(b) procures another for prostitution, whether or not the person procured is already a prostitute, either in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere; or
(c) procures another to become an inmate, whether or not the person procured is already an inmate elsewhere, of or to frequent a brothel either in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere,
is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 15 years.
18. A person who—(a) by threats or intimidation procures another to have sexual intercourse with any person either in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere; or
(b) by deception procures another to have sexual intercourse with any person either in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere; or
(c) applies, administers to or causes to be taken by any person any drug, matter or thing with intent to stupefy or overpower that person so as thereby to enable any other person to have sexual intercourse with that person, is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 15 years.
19. (1) A person who detains another against that other’s will—
(a) in or upon any premises with intent that the person detained may have sexual intercourse with any person; or
(b) in any brothel,
is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 10 years.