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‘Tis the season for prostitution?
(BI) Feedloader User.
In the United States, men go to prostitutes more often during that country’s official holidays. Does this also happen in Trinidad during the Carnival season?
That people have more sex during Carnival seems likely. While the average number of babies born in Trinidad averages 1,300 per month from January to August, this rises to 1,500 from September to December – a 15 per cent increase. There may be other factors causing more births in these months, but no one has identified what these might be. In respect to prostitution during Carnival, as far back as 1889 the Port of Spain Gazette complained about “courtesans” coming for Carnival from other islands “to swell the ranks of the immoral in Trinidad. They conducted their trade in broad daylight, were generally well-dressed, and often molested decent women in the streets.”
But there is little or no data on prostitution in Trinidad, either historically or today. In the book SuperFreakonomics, economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner cite a 1910 United States survey of 310 cities in 26 states which suggests that, since 85 per cent of prostitutes were in their twenties, one in every 50 women in that age bracket was a sex worker back then. “Today prostitution is generally illegal in the United States, albeit with a few exceptions and many inconsistencies in enforcement,” they write. Prostitution wasn’t outlawed in the US until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when talk about “white slavery” became widespread. “The white slavery problem turned out to be a wild exaggeration,” say Levitt and Dubner. “The reality was perhaps scarier: rather than being forced into prostitution, the women were choosing it for themselves.” At that time, a shop-girl earned a weekly wage of about US$6; as a prostitute, she could make at least US$25 a week.
The same issue faced young women in Trinidad. In the 1930s, notes scholar Gordon Rohlehr in his book Calypso and Society, there were many calypsoes dealing with prostitution, when more women appeared to be turning to this avenue. “Some singers, indeed, presented the vocation of prostitution as the only alternative to that of housewifery, and warned young girls against leaving their mothers’ homes,” Rohlehr writes. But the 1940 Moyne Commission, appointed to look into workers’ protests in various British Caribbean colonies, concluded that, “Commercialised prostitution is not common as a profession in the West Indies. The high percentage of promiscuity in the Colonies puts prostitution into the category of a luxury profession. When this profession is followed, it is usually for economic reasons and because the wages earned by the woman in her other occupation are often too low to obtain the necessities of life for her.” And in his 1953 survey Social Stratification in Trinidad, UWI sociologist Lloyd Braithwaite noted: “In the lower-class sections of the town many well-known prostitutes abide, even though technically some have no fixed place of abode. the straitened and precarious economic circumstances that face working-class girls, particularly in the towns, must constantly make prostitution a temptation to them.”
It is also well-established that prostitution increased in Trinidad when the US set up a military base in Chaguaramas during the Second World War. Two famous calypsoes which marked that era were “Rum and Coca Cola” by Invader, with the lines “Both mother and daughter/Working for the Yankee dollar” and, after the soldiers left, Sparrow in “Jean and Dinah” sang, “And if you catch them broken/You can get it all for nothing,/Don’t make no row/The Yankees gone and Sparrow take over now.”
So how many women in T&T become prostitutes nowadays? The only sources of data are indirect. Newspaper reports of police raids on brothels generally find between 20 and 30 women being arrested, but many of the women are foreigners (often from Colombia or other South American countries). The Personals section in the classified ads are another source. There are usually around 60 such ads, though some of these are for the same “agency” with different telephone numbers. Most of these places appear to employ around three girls, although one former escort says she worked in places where there up to six or seven girls.
Assuming that there are 50 such places in Trinidad with an average of three workers, that’s at least 150 young women providing sexual services of various kinds. These places generate significant income which, since prostitution is illegal, is not taxed. A female working a normal job at an average minimum wage of $15 per hour earns about $720 per six-day week. If a prostitute earns $1,000 a week, this means that each “escort agency” or “massage parlour” has to generate at least $12,000 a month just to cover salaries, and probably $20,000 total to meet other expenses, such as rent, utilities, phone bills, etc. That means this part of the sex industry alone generates $12,000,000 a year.
From these figures, we can also hazard an estimate as to how many Trinidadian men go to such places. Calls to these agencies revealed that a massage costs about $200, while escorts are $300. If the masseurs/escorts earn $100 per session, they have to do 10 sessions a week to make $1000. That’s 40 men per month (assuming no repeats).
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