Port Henderson back road. - HUGH STONE
PORT HENDERSON ROAD, more popularly called 'Back Road' is Kingston and St. Catherine's unofficial red light district.
It is the hub for sex trade, attracting patrons from the Corporate Area, Portmore, and Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
'Back Road', located between the new highway and Bayside in Portmore is the work place of prostitutes, a haven for lovers going on trysts, go-go clubs and at least one massage parlour.
But the reputation of 'Back Road' has made things hard for at least one hotelier who is not based on the three kilometre stretch of road but operates a business in Portmore.
"Whenever we tell people we are based in Portmore they immediately become sceptical about what we offer. It's because of the stigma that is attached to Portmore hotels and a lot of it has to do with the Port Henderson strip," explained Charlene Fagan-England of the Tim Buk To Resorts.
Tim Buk To Resorts is located in Hellshire, eight kilometres from 'Back Road.'
Interestingly, Port Henderson Road could rival any tourist resort area in Jamaica with the number of hotels and attractions along the strip. It has even attracted the attention of the Ministry of Tourism, which, while knowing of its reputation, says there are plans to add them to the list of hotels to meet the demand for the number of rooms needed for the Cricket World Cup next year.
"We are thinking about how we can pull them so that the room stock can be improved for next year," said Gerry McDaniel, director of communications at the Ministry of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture.
A rough count by THE STAR came up with 14 hotels with an estimate of 200 rooms, two go-go clubs, one massage parlour and several prostitutes.
THE STAR checks show most hotels on the strip rent rooms for $700 for three hours and from $1,000 per night upwards depending on what is in the rooms. A room with a ceiling fan and television starts from $700 for three hours but goes for $1,000 per night.
Sea Horse Rider Inn and Jewels International resorts say they are not a part of the sex industry as they only offer rooms for the night at regular hotel rates. Rooms at Sea Horse Rider Inn start at $2,700 while rooms at Jewels start at $2,100. Both hotels say they have been tainted by other hotels on the strip that operate as sex shops.
"People sometimes taint us because of what goes on around here but we don't do that and when they come and see they are surprised. We along with Jewels and Casa Blanca don't offer that type of service but we get tainted nonetheless," said a spokesperson of Sea Horse Rider Inn.
The cheap rooms offered by some of the hotels is one reason some prostitutes say they have set up business in the area.
"It private because nobody nah see yuh from yuh pay yuh money nobody nah come badda yuh an' di police dem nuh trouble yuh either," said one prostitute in the area.
On one visit to the area on a Saturday night, women were seen standing on the streets. One approached a member of the news team with idle chatter. After a few minutes of conversation she offered her services.
"Yuh nah do business," she asked as she smiled.
"Wha kinda business yuh a talk bout?" said a member of the news team feigning innocence.
"Yuh know business like sex," she said smiling. "A jus $2,000 cause mi haffi pay fi di room fi stay as long as we want."
She explained to THE STAR that rooms were available for $700 on average but could be had for less. She added she chose to sell flesh on the 'Back Road' because rooms were available and her clients would be more comfortable.
Although she quoted a price of $2,000, the services on the back road can be had for less. On another visit to the area this time during midweek, prostitutes were seen. This time they were more aggressive and sold sex for $1,500 to both motorists and pedestrians. While the news team drove through the area the women bellowed 'Starry'.
THE STAR checks also show that most of the hotels on the strip offer the rooms to anybody with no questions asked. Most of the caretakers of the properties with whom THE STAR spoke have denied their hotels harbour prostitutes. They say even if the women are prostitutes it is difficult to tell as men also pay for rooms and people come throughout the day.
The openness of prostitution on the stretch has led the women to ask for it to be legalised. They say everyone knows it exists and everyone either drives through or does business in the area at some point. For THE STAR's visit, several vehicles were seen stopping to do business with the prostitutes. The prostitutes say on a good night they can earn more than $10,000 minus fees for rooms.
The women's boldness even attracted the attention of the Portmore Municipal Council. At one meeting, Councillor for the Hellshire Division, Leon Thomas called for the prostitutes to be removed from the area after one walked in front of his car. The councillor at the time described the situation as "a national disgrace."
Portmore Mayor George Lee said there has been an influx of prostitutes from New Kingston into the area. He said the matter was raised at a council meeting recently.
"There has been an influx of prostitutes in recent times and we have asked the police to step up surveillance in the area to deal with it," said Mayor Lee.
In addressing the possibility of making the area an official red light district especially in light of the approaching Cricket World Cup, Mayor Lee said that move was unlikely.
"I couldn't respond to that as I would have to meet with the council with that proposal. But, I don't think it would find favour in Portmore though," he said.
The police were at the municipal council meeting when the matter was raised. But, the women said the police did not stop them from carrying out their trade.When THE STAR was in the area, the women seemed at ease in conducting business and even tried to get clients as a group of policemen walked in the area.
During one visit to the area, one policeman was seen in one of the go-go clubs in his blue denim uniform with his M16 rifle strung on his back dancing to Sizzla's "Run Out Pon Dem" while his other colleagues also in uniforms enjoyed a game of pool. Shortly after, they walked past the women to their jeep which was parked in a dark open lot behind the club.
The police say they have carried out raids in the area in the past. In one such raid in 2004, a 15-year-old girl who was involved in having sex on stage at the go-go club was taken into custody. There have been other raids and other arrests but prostitution still remains in on the back road. The Bridgeport Police say it is difficult to stamp out the practise especially if the woman was not openly soliciting.
"If she is just standing there we can't go up to her and arrest her," said an officer at the Bridgeport Police Station.
"When we go to court she will tell the judge that she was just standing there and we locked her up. So, we don't arrest them unless we see them in the act. If they are not behaving badly or violently we leave them alone," he said.
The policeman could not say if the girls were from New Kingston. They however said the women came from places such as Clarendon, St. Thomas and Linstead to sell flesh in Portmore.