Weekend lockdown hurts prostitutes; organisations trying to help

WITH the island under heightened weekend and holiday curfew measures through to April 12 as part of the ongoing COVID-19 response, a group of women in the Corporate Area, who depend on prostitution for a living and have been feeling the pinch, has presented a wish list which several female-led organisations are racing against time to fill.

Stacy Ann Smith, head of Pursued International, a non-profit organisation which has been working with a number of the women on a particular stretch in the Corporate Area, says recent violent incidents involving women have added an edge of desperation to their efforts.

“With the extended curfew, one of the concerns that came to mind was the fact that they wouldn’t have any means of earning money. I was aware that the Government was giving out stipends but our ladies would not benefit. So a friend of mine messaged asking what we were doing. I felt pushed by the Lord to do something, so I called a few organisations that were really impacted by what happened with Khanice [the 20-year-old Portmore woman who was last week abducted and murdered]. I thought to myself, if somebody who is living a sheltered life could be at risk, how much more would women who were out on the road,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer.

“So I reached out to 876 Volunteer and their founder Kimone Brown and said this is what we are doing, would you like to help out and she said definitely. Then I reached out to the founder of Girls First International Stephanie Hazle that also does work with at-risk women. Khanice’s death pushed us more and so we reached out to people, and other groups are coming on. Raggamuffin Cafe, located at 74 Lady Musgrave Road, has agreed to be our drop-off point,” Smith outlined.

She said the women when canvassed on Monday night provided a checklist of items they were in need of to survive the lockdown for the next two weekends. It is this list that the groups headed by Pursued are racing to fill, cognisant of the short notice.

“We spoke to each of them, [and] there are persons who have newborns and need Pampers, all the way to regular items like flour and rice. They are going to be off the road for curfew on Thursday; we are gathering stuff between today and tomorrow to go out and give as many women as we can.

“So far people have been so supportive; we have been blessed by so many Jamaicans, locally and internationally. Companies have donated, people are buying grocery items and dropping off. GoErrands JA, run by Shelly-Ann Foster, is providing free delivery services for persons who do not have the time to purchase the groceries and drop them off.

“You know what is interesting, except for Ragamuffin Cafe, every single organisation is run by a woman. So it is women, helping women,” Smith told the Observer.

She said the women, since the ongoing restrictions imposed from March of last year, have been experiencing even more difficulties.

“It’s been hard for them; very, very hard. They have to work to take care of their families. Some of them are new, some are not; we are seeing persons of all ages and stages, it’s heart-wrenching,” Smith stated.

Among the items the women have requested are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned goods, rice and other starches, sugar, milk, cooking oil, baby formula, meats and masks. People wanting to volunteer to assist in packaging or to donate items can contact the organisations using their listed numbers of social media handles: @pursuedinternational, @876volunteer or @girlsfirstja. The aim is to stock 50 grocery bags.



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