Tue | Sep 29, 2020

Horrible and traumatic - Human trafficking victim warns young girls of the dangers lurking on the Internet

Published:Sunday | August 9, 2020 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle - Contributor
Alando Terrelonge, minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information
FILE PHOTOS Sharon Millwood-Moore, senior deputy director of public prosecutions.
Children can be seriously endangered or led to make decisions they regret for a lifetime
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What appeared to be a chance meeting on Facebook in April 2016 forever changed the life of an 18-year-old girl from an impoverished rural community. She thought the opportunity presented was going to be her only way out of poverty, her big break.

The teenager, who was unfamiliar with Kingston, now realises that all that glitters is not gold because when she journeyed into the capital city in response to the invitation to be a promotional dancer, she was instead shepherded into a life of prostitution.

“Now I regret my decision and I would not want other young girls to get trapped in this traumatic and horrible situation,” she shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

The young woman is relieved that the man who put her through that ordeal is now behind bars for nine years for trafficking in persons and living off the earnings of prostitution. Also recruited through Facebook was a 16-year-old girl from another rural parish.

According to Alando Terrelonge, minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, the Government is now moving swiftly to tackle the many issues affecting the nation’s children, including COVID-19, abuse and human trafficking.

“Come September, we will be looking at infusing set guidelines into the school curriculum to help with the psychosocial or societal effect of COVID-19 and general societal issues that confront our children every day,” Terrelonge pointed out.

He outlined that the issues ranged from abuse, low self-esteem, skin bleaching, balancing social media, general self-awareness and promoting good values and attitudes, as well as the impact of COVID-19.

He explained that some guidance counsellors have had training sessions with psychologists and psychiatrists to help to formulate and guide those teaching methods “to ensure that we are able to maximise the outreach to students within those counselling sessions at school”.

At the same time, Senior Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Sharon Milwood Moore is making an impassioned plea for parents and guardians to pay close attention to what children are doing on the Internet and with whom they are forming associations on social media.

BE ON THE ALERT

“In the 58th year of independence for Jamaica, it is absolutely necessary that all well-meaning persons heed the call of NATFATIP (the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons) to be on the alert for instances where there could be victims ‘hidden in plain sight’. Persons must begin to see it as their duty to report suspected cases of human trafficking so that investigations can be conducted and interventions provided for victims,” noted Milwood Moore.

“There are predators out there actively scouting and luring victims.”

She pointed out that children can be seriously endangered or led to make decisions they regret for a lifetime. The same applies to many adults. Milwood Moore is mindful that ignorance and poverty combined can lead to some victims being easily tricked, “especially in a society like ours with harsh economic realities, and now with COVID-19 serving to exacerbate, for many, an already bad situation”.

She said further that while some will be very harsh in their criticisms of victims, it must be borne in mind that some people are naive and don’t feel like they have options, and so are more vulnerable to being misled and willing to take the chance.

THE CASE

The case against 45-year-old Devon Scott, music promoter, of a Waterloo Avenue address in St Andrew, was prosecuted by Milwood Moore and Crown Counsel Syleen Ogilvie.

Scott was convicted and sentenced last month by Justice Georgianna Fraser to nine years for trafficking in persons and one year for living off the earnings of prostitution. The sentences are to run concurrently. The offences were committed between April 2016 and July 2016.

When the victim came to Kingston in April 2016, she was met by Scott and his female friend. She was taken to an upstairs house on Waterloo Avenue. The victim said each bedroom had its own bathroom and there was a bar upstairs in addition to living and dining rooms.

Scott purchased dancing clothes for the victim and another 16-year-old girl and took them to dance at bars and nightspots in the Corporate Area, all under the watchful eye of Scott and his female friend.

While they were dancing, Scott was busy negotiating prices with male patrons.

Court documents revealed that most of the sexual activities took place at the house on Waterloo Avenue, with condoms being distributed to clients from the bar on the premises.

On other occasions, Scott agreed with men to be intimate with the victim for the entire night, wherever these previously unknown men chose to take her. After such ordeals, the victim would be returned to Scott at the Waterloo Avenue address. Scott sometimes gave the victim money but on some occasions she was not paid.

POLICE RAID

One night in July 2016 while the girls were dancing at a bar in Olympic Gardens, the police carried out a raid. Scott ran, leaving his motor car and the girls, but he was held months later. The bar owner told the police and testified that he had only arranged with Scott for the girls to dance at the bar.

The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act defines a person under 18 years as a child. Human trafficking is often described as modern-day slavery.

Milwood Moore said that in addition to various forms of sexual exploitation, the other most prominent type of human trafficking cases seen in Jamaica relate to labour exploitation.

“Given that the circumstances of these matters are often rooted in abuse or deception, all victims find it extremely humiliating and difficult to expose themselves to the ordeal of testifying at trial,” she explained, noting the challenges in achieving successful prosecution of such cases.

“Nonetheless, we are grateful that due to unwavering commitment from prosecutors and Jamaica Constabulary Force Anti-Trafficking in Person investigators, Jamaica has managed to secure a number of convictions since the enactment of the legislation.”

Milwood Moore is hoping that with heightened awareness and continued support from the public, victims can be identified and those who engage in the practice of human trafficking can be brought to justice.

editorial@gleanerjm.com