Tobago child prostitution ring drama: Cops stay silent, residents clueless

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

CRIME IN SLEEPY BETHEL: The sleepy, quiet Riseland Trace community in Bethel, Tobago which was rocked by the recent news of arrests by police of several people involved in a prostitution ring which involved minors. Photo by Kinnesha George-Harry

POLICE remain tight-lipped on the recent human trafficking and prostitution of several children in the Riseland Trace, Bethel community, and the residents are clueless.

On December 4, three people – a Colombian man and two women from the Dominican Republic, who live at Riseland Trace – appeared before a Scarborough magistrate charged with human-trafficking offences and prostitution.

The information only surfaced on December 11.

Reports said a Colombian man and two women from the Dominican Republic, all living in Tobago, were slapped with human-trafficking charges and a separate offence under the Children Act.

Divy Oscoro Silva, 20, Digna Yulay Los Santos, 33, and Alexandra Chalas Pozo, 22, all of Riseland Trace, answered to the charges before magistrate Christine Charles at the Scarborough Magistrates Court.

Los Santos and Pozo were also charged with transporting a person for the purpose of prostitution, and Pozo faced an additional charge of inciting a child to become a prostitute. They were denied bail, remanded into custody and will reappear in court on December 22.

Police said that on November 27, Counter Trafficking Unit officers received information about an alleged child prostitution ring in which several minors were being held against their will. The statement said three Latin American girls were rescued and several items found and seized as evidence.

The operation was led by Snr Supt Christopher Paponette of the Special Investigations Unit, together with the director of the Counter Trafficking Unit. It was supervised by Sgt Walters of the Counter Trafficking Unit.

But when Newsday visited the area, residents said they were unaware of what had been going on there, some even asking for the location to be verified.

Though unaware of the details, one woman speaking on condition of anonymity commended the officers.

“Well, if they buss one, I believe they can buss more – so they definitely need to keep on this and continue the good job.”

Another home-owner described it as a wake-up call for all.

“This is definitely an eye-opener especially for the parents. Many of us think that we are safe, but we must realise that Tobago has changed, it is not the Tobago that we knew of yesteryear. This one was obviously kept quiet, I don’t know for what reason, but…we have to understand that the place is changing.”

One man said this was only one of many such cases to be uncovered.

“I believe the police just scratched the surface. I mean, we are renting our properties to so many outsiders, especially, and bringing them to live amongst us within our communities. But in all of reality, what do we know about them? The police have more to uncover.”

Another man agreed.

“Tobagonians need to wake up and realise that we’re no longer safe. I commend the officers. I don’t think that this is a now issue, probably (it’s just) now that people are being caught, but this has been happening for a while. Look how many children end up missing. The police have only now started working.”

One woman said the situation was shocking.

“Well, when I heard it on the news, I was surprised, and at that point I asked myself, ‘What is Tobago coming to?’ We keep on inviting people into our homes, that time when we did that as Tobagonians must come to an end – times have changed.”

She said Tobagonians must return to the old principles.

“We need to go back to the days when the village raised the child, and when you would always watch out for each other, because this happened right in a Tobago community. I mean, I understand that the perpetrators are outsiders, but we need to look around, see what is happening around us, even within our neighbourhoods, and any little suspicious event, report it to the police. Help them to help us.”

Several Tobago police officers said they were unaware of the incident, as the exercise was carried out by officers from Trinidad. Tobago ACP Collis Hazel said he preferred not to give a statement based on reports.

“I am not able to comment on that at this point in time. I prefer not to comment.”

MUM’S THE WORD: ACP (Tobago) Collis Hazel who was remained tight-lipped over the Riseland Trace, Bethel prostitution ring bust. – File photo by Roger Jacob