June 18 - 24 , 2006
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J’can sex tourism subject of new documentary

By Mark Thompson

“Sex tourism, a product of slavery, is not new to the Caribbean. Every year over 80,000 middle-aged women flock to Jamaica “to get their groove back” in search of the “big bamboo”.

With these words, the latest celluloid chronicle of sex tourism in Jamaica opens, casting light on a longstanding issue that continues to thrive in the industry, identified as the country’s primary engine of growth.

The pursuit of sun, sand and sea has long been expanded to include sex — a mutually beneficial engagement between consenting pleasure seekers from North America and Europe and “financially challenged” Jamaicans. The new documentary — Rent-A-Rasta — by German-born journalist and film maker J. Michael Seyfert, narrows its scope to female visitors who seek the services of dreadlocksed males.

“Sex tourism is not new to the Caribbean. However, the combo of Rastafari and tropical niche prostitution caught my attention. I always wanted to visit Jamaica, so in this context I got my first look,” said Seyfert.

The statistics of over 80,000 middle-aged women visiting the island in search of sex is derived from the work of Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, a sociology lecturer at the University of Leeds. She conducted research on “sexual economic exchanges” between female tourists and local men in Jamaica as well as the Dominican Republic.

“Many other sources of my own research bottom line about 200 women entering Jamaica each day to get their island groove back,” Seyfert noted.

He added that “Rent-a-Rastas” were present all around the region with or without the dreadlocks. He identified low wages in Jamaica as motivation for the practice, since these persons can earn their weekly salary in one night.

Not condoned
Wayne Cummings, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and first vice president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), told the Sunday Herald that sex tourism is not condoned by the organisations that he represents.

He pointed out that although many visitors to exotic locations such as Jamaica often arrive with hope of finding an “escort”, the country has made efforts to move away from this image.

“It still happens, but we categorise it as tourist harassment. We invite tourists here for sun, sea, sand and Jamaican hospitality, which does not necessarily include sexual favours,” said Cummings.

He added that sex tourism brought with it many negative implications such as the spread of infectious diseases and a tarnished national image.

“Those persons in the sex tourism industry are better served by getting training and incorporate themselves into legitimate tourism jobs,” he said.

Cummings indicated that tourism interests in the resort towns have better working relationships with the police, and this has prevented the problem from being an overt one. He also indicated that tourism interests have also begun to address the problem through education. Cummings also spoke to the issue of staff training at the Sandals hotel chain to ensure that internal and external interaction does not become or appear untoward.

He also addressed child sex tourism and human trafficking in the broader sense of the problem, stating that his organisations were committed to combat the scourge.

According to a recent global estimate by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), two million children in the world are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Mostly the sex
An excerpt of the narrative from the documentary contains an interview with Karen, an Englishwoman from Devon. In it, she reveals her reason for visiting Jamaica without any qualms.

“I’m not nave, I’ve been around the block. I come for sex, of course the sun, but mostly the sex.”

A forty-five-year-old Caucasian woman from Chicago voiced the view that American women come to Negril because they are able to get what they cannot get at home.

“A girl who no one looks at twice gets hit on all the time here, all these guys are paying her attention, telling her she’s really beautiful, and they really want her…in Chicago this could never happen. Here it is like a secret, a fantasy…and then you go home.”

In addition to an exploration of Jamaica’s sex tourism, the documentary also delves into the world of Rastafarianism.

“It epitomises Caribbean sex tourism with a twist in that it humanises Jamaicans who “fill milk bottles” and at the same time opens a path of understanding to contemporary Rasta culture, unknown to western audiences,” said Seyfert.

Cummings questioned the use of “Rasta” in the title of the work, since those engaged in sex tourism were really “dreads”.

The documentary was shot over two weeks in Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Bull Bay and Kingston. The running time is 45 minutes and its June 11 premiere has been delayed due to discussions with several US film festivals to showcase the work with exclusivity stipulations. Seyfert hopes to circulate the documentary worldwide for another two to four years.

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