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Quintessential resort islands are often pictured with lithe, melanin-rich indigenous beauties on the arms of plump distinguished foreign men. In the majority of Caribbean islands, the purchase and sale of sex are illegal activities. The Dutch Antilles, however, provide a special opportunity for the commercial sex industry not legally available in the rest of the Caribbean. As present or former territories of the Netherlands, the Dutch Antilles fall under many of the same general laws as their mother country, including the controlled legalization of prostitution. The six Dutch-speaking islands are divided into two groups: Sint Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius (the SSS Islands) and Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (the ABC islands).

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As is frequently stated, the issue in the Dutch Caribbean is not corruption but ambivalence. The positions on the issue of sex work have been stagnant for years in the Dutch Antilles, with public demand for the industry overriding the human rights of the trafficking victims. Changes to the current mandates are necessary, but changes in the disposition of the government officials are imperative for any change to stick. The hopeful shift in the government should result in an increase of prosecutions, thus deterring prospective traffickers. There have, of course, been attempts to increase awareness throughout the Dutch Antilles. In conjunction with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Aruban Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling Taskforce Aruba organized a weeklong campaign in October highlighting instances of trafficking on the island. The IOM also helped facilitate similar campaigns in a few Anglophone islands yet the presence of similar initiatives in the Dutch speaking isles has been limited. The spread and influence of awareness campaigns are viable initiatives regarding the reduction of human trafficking in the Dutch Antilles. The circumstances in these islands can most be improved by an increase in citizen participation and lead to a complementary increase in government action. The initial legitimization of prostitution is significant, however the governments’ need to recognize they have a responsibility to protect the rights of everyone within their shores, and not just their birthright citizens. While the industry may be deemed morally criminal, it is lawful and thus deserves the same amount of policing as any other industry on the islands.

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The legalization of prostitution in the Dutch Caribbean over a half century ago served a void at the time. However, it now enables a niche sex-tourism market and does not differentiate between willing and unwilling sex workers. Government and law officials often insinuate that they are not “proud” of the sex establishments located off the beaten paths of their islands but only feign interest in defending the rights of those working in the sex industry. Streetwalkers are rarely prosecuted as they are only registered and subjected to weekly health examinations. Furthermore, state and law officials are often knowledgeable of the non-lawful establishments in which women often engage in prostitution but maintain they have no way in knowing if these women are coerced - and do little to determine the truth.

This analysis was prepared by Aleia Walker, Research Associate for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs ().

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I had been loving and serving dancers in strip clubs for several years when my teammates and I decided to do something special. While we usually just did hair and makeup, on this particular night we decided we would give the dancers pedicures.

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The dancers who used to make a living performing at weddings and the less prestigious nightclubs are having trouble making ends meet. Many Egyptian-born dancers have retired from performing altogether. Increasingly, the dancers who do continue to perform publicly are foreigners from Russia, Argentina, and other far-flung places.

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(1) Melissa Farley, from “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and PTSD.”
(2) Alegria, M., Vera, M., Freeman, D., Robles, R., Santos, M., & Rivera, C., (1994). HIV infection, risk behaviors, and depressive symptoms among Puerto Rican sex workers. American Journal of Public Health, 84(12), 2000-2002.


I knew this woman wasn’t alone. I had been working with these women for long enough to know that many women working in the adult entertainment industry feel utterly trapped and helpless and dream of a better life. The statistics surrounding the world of the adult entertainment industry are staggering: 69% of women in the sex industry experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (1), 85% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children (2), and 89% of women working in the industry say they want to escape but have no other means for survival (3).

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After a couple of hours, we were about to pack up when I saw a woman glancing at us from the corner of the room. I felt the Lord urging me to go over and talk to her, so I walked over and said, “I think I’ve got just enough hot water for one more pedicure if you’re interested?”