Investigating illegal brothels
The statement by ASP Leon Haynes at Thursday's police briefing, warning landlords of potential liability for illegal activities involving their properties was a warning without adequate qualification.
In defining one extreme, an owner who rents without knowing what happens at their property, Mr Haynes ignores the nuances of the standard rental agreement, which also confers some rights of privacy on the renter.
On receipt of payment for the use of a property, renters are entitled to expect that landlords will visit, giving due notice, on matters of relevance to the upkeep of the building or in response to issues articulated by the renter.
While general knowledge of property use is reasonable, a bar or hotel should have no reason to expect an uncommon number of visits by the property owner after renting the building and land.
Among the responsibilities of the Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF), of which Mr Haynes is a part, is the identification and closure of businesses being used for illegal activities, among them the operation of a brothel. The MATF, he noted, had closed seven brothels in Port of Spain, Chaguanas, Freeport and San Fernando.
That's likely to be a tiny fraction of the buildings being used for commercial sex and former Couva MP Ramona Ramdial has already discovered just how difficult it can be to identify and shut down a brothel.
In July 2020, Ms Ramdial called on police to shut down three brothels operating in Couva under the guise of bars, only to discover that Central Division police did not see it as their job to shut down the businesses.
Arrests at the establishments led to charges for human trafficking and prostitution, but the bars continued to serve their clientele. To shut down an illegal brothel, the MATF will use OSHA rules to force the closure of a building, pending correction of safety breaches. Such strategies imply a gesture of concern for the safety of the occupants of a brothel, but MATF officers can go beyond that.
Multiple investigations by international bodies into reports of human trafficking have indicated that local brothels use coercive techniques to entrap and enslave women in the practice of prostitution.
The UN's Global Report on Trafficking, 2022, notes that in Central America and the Caribbean, 42 per cent of cases of sexual exploitation take place at a bar and the ratio of convictions to investigations is the lowest in the Americas.
When officers from the MATF raid a suspected brothel, is there a process for compassionate intervention using a female officer, assisted by an interpreter, to assess whether the women involved are exercising free will?
That's likely to be a more pressing and immediate concern, given national commitments to address human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
"Investigating illegal brothels"