Cracey Fernandes, CVC Board member speaks out
Sex workers call for a more educated police force
The Guyana Coalition of Sex Workers is advocating for a better educated Guyana Police Force capable of handling diverse issues in a mature manner.
President of the coalition, Cracey Fernandes in an interview with Guyana Times called for a more professional approach by police officers in the treatment of gays, lesbians, transvestites and commercial sex workers.
Fernandes stated that this cannot be achieved if the Guyana Police Force continues to recruit persons with limited educational backgrounds.
He explained that all police officers must be equipped with the relevant skills and at the very least, a university education.
“So they can be more sound in their judgment. There are different issues and as Guyana becomes a more modern society, there will be increasing challenges that they would need to grapple with. You can’t have police officers who come out of school and are able to join the force. They would not be fully capable of dealing with the issues we have in society,” Fernandes explained.
He said the Guyana Coalition of Sex Workers, a European-funded organisation, has not made significant strides in terms of getting law enforcement officials to take complaints of gays and commercial sex workers seriously.
“You find that many times, you go to the police station and the police heckle you and make jokes out of the situation. They are never serious. You do have police officers who would,” Fernandes pointed out.
However, he lamented the fact that the police would take drastic action should a report be made against sex workers.
Fernandes praised most of the senior police officers for having a more professional approach to complaints of sex workers, but said the challenge is presented by the illegality of commercial sex, commonly known as prostitution.
“But sex work is work and it has become a part of the world structure. There are good officers but the bad ones are tarnishing the reputation of the entire force,” Fernandes remarked.
Regarding the Guyana Sex Workers Coalition lobbying Parliament on the repeal of prostitution laws, Fernandes said that this cannot be done in isolation.
However, he said the organisation can work to ensure that the basic human rights of sex workers are not trampled. “We are not here to promote sex workers but to support sex workers. We do not go out and encourage people to become sex workers. If we find that you are involved in sex work, we try to work with you regardless of the challenges. We just advocate for their human rights,” Fernandes disclosed.
He related that poverty has forced some persons into the jaws of commercialised sex.
Fernandes, who is U.S.-trained in combating trafficking in persons, said the coalition has held empowerment sessions with sex workers through UNAIDS, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and other agencies across Guyana.
“We have also worked with the National AIDS Programmes Secretariat and hopefully we would be able to work in the prisons very soon. We are also trying in the lines of getting the religious bodies to understand some of the challenges we do face, so hopefully we would be able to venture into those avenues.”
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has trained some 80 commercial sex workers in alternative skills through collaboration with the Guyana coalition.
He explained that since its establishment in 2008, the coalition has partnered with several agencies, including healthcare providers to adequately fulfil its mandate.
Fernandes disclosed that the European donor has indicated its willingness to continue supporting the coalition’s work.
This, Fernandes said, will assist in not only expanding the safe space but also securing a separate location to house the office to accommodate additional employees.
The Guyana Coalition of Sex Workers officially opened its doors on September 7 last, offering services from voluntary counselling and testing, to shelter, free meals and a safe space.
The initiative is the brainchild of Miriam Edwards, who serves as executive director of the coalition. She believes commercial sex workers do not have equal access to prevention, care and treatment services.
Over the years, Edwards said the coalition has been able to conduct workshops in hotels and brothels, informing owners about their roles in protecting commercial sex workers.
Edwards related that despite the many challenges, the organisation has been able to work in every administrative region, serving the most at-risk groups, including transvestites, men who have sex with men and the lesbian community.