KINGSTON, Jamaica – The economic meltdown that has triggered massive layoffs and production cutbacks in the formal business sector has spread to the illegal sex industry as prostitutes and sensual massage parlours have reported at least a 50 per cent decline in profits and clientele.
The manager of a well-established Kingston massage parlour, which offers sexual services, said she may be forced to close doors soon. While accustomed to making $8,000-$10,000 on weekdays and up to $15,000 on weekends, the operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the economic crunch has depressed revenues to roughly $15,000 weekly, an 80 per cent hit to the till.
Erosion of the bottom line has sparked job cuts too, as she has had to reduce her women-only staff from six to two.
Contingencies to cushion the fallout include a 33 per cent reduction in hourly rates from $1,500 to $1,000, the manager said. The clamour for discounts has risen in recent months, but she said further price reductions were impractical in an industry which has already become uneconomic. Staff cuts have also driven away business.
“The clients are suffering from a limited choice. Once they could pick, choose and refuse who they want to perform the service, but now they have limited choice,” said the operator.
Another parlour manager who declined to disclose her identity because of risk of prosecution stated that the economic downturn is stifling her business.
“Men who used to take on three girls have to limit to one, as well as men who used to take a double round have to limit to strictly one time and so I am losing big time,” she lamented.
Only $10,000 a week
Before the crisis, she said she earned up to $30,000 per week; now she barely makes $10,000. The manager said she had explored price adjustments and other strategies to accommodate more clients.
“A package of one hour that normally costs $1,500 will be reduced to $1,000, as well as persons who are regular customers will have to be considered for discounts,” she told The Gleaner.
While most parlours contacted reported a drastic decrease in business, one operator who employs six women said there was only a slight decline in her clientele.
“Things could be worse, considering the problem we are facing, so I can’t complain. All I can do is thank the Lord for providing,” she said.
Motels which double as sex shops are feeling the pinch too. According to a manager of a motel in Kingston, revenues of approximately $15,000 per day have virtually dried up, cutting his take by more than 50 per cent.
However, he said he would not decrease charges – $1,200 per hour or $5,500 a night – as reductions would lead to closure.
Prostitutes in New Kingston, a long-time hunting ground, said they have been forced to offer discounts and deals to retain dwindling clientele.
A sex worker who goes by the name ‘Lushus’ said patronage had declined significantly, explaining that men have been reporting increased financial challenges. Earnings of up to $7,000 per night have largely evaporated – to a low of $2,000 – and sometimes no clients turn up, said Lushus, whose base rate is $1,000.
“Business rough, and that’s why mi glad it never work out fi wi pay tax, ’cause nutten nah gwaan,” she said, referring to calls last year by a government functionary who lobbied for the incorporation of sex workers into the tax net.
Opinion is divided on decriminalising prostitution. Some health experts and liberal advocacy groups have said decriminalisation and regulation would reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, as well as diminish personal safety dangers.
However, political administrations have shied away from legal reform. Decriminalisation would be an unpopular move in some quarters, particularly with religious conservatives.
Police crackdowns on prostitution have been sporadic, sex workers re-emerging after a lull in prosecutions.
“It nuh pretty on the street again but I just want fi make a smalls ’cause mi nuh have no money,” said a sex worker in another section of New Kingston, a business district with many residential communities on its outskirts.
“Sometimes we make a price for $2,000 depending on the person and it drop to $1,000 and less,” she added.
Although there are no official figures on the underground sex industry, it is believed to generate several millions of dollars annually.