Barrington Flemming – Staff Reporter
“First, we were the most murderous community, now we are a den of prostitutes, what’s next?”
That’s one of the many reactions of residents of Mt. Salem in Montego Bay, St. James, following a statement by Omar Sweeney, Executive Director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund,JSIF, that 85 percent of young women in the community are involved in some form of prostitution.
Mr. Sweeney made the statement last Friday and earned the ire of both men and women in Mt. Salem (which is the first site of the Zone of Special Operations), some of whom hurled expletives at him for what they term as his blatant bias against the community.
A group of angry placard-bearing women took to the streets in Mt. Salem on Friday in protest against Sweeney’s statement, bearing such messages as ‘Get your facts before you speak! We are not whores!’, ‘Mr. Sweeny do not discriminate our ladies’.
“You are a lying, wicked man; they branded the community the murder capital and now you brand it the den of prostitution, you are evil”, shouted one woman. Another said: “Capital N–O! Not true Mr. Sweeney; our young ladies are working class people, some of whom are university students and graduates; you are so wrong.”
An upset,Winsome Barnes, Community Development Committee Chairman for Mt. Salem, chided Mr. Sweeney for the statement,which she says further cast the community in a bad light after it was labelled the murder capital of Jamaica at the time the Prime Minister designated the area the first Zone of Special Operations,ZOSO.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
“As a person who lives in Mount Salem, you would have to show me the 85 percent of young women who are prostitutes. So, if that is happening, you need to open Mount Salem to be a ‘Red Light’ district. Other community members and leaders are really disgusted by this statement, as we are trying to build a community and I know we have challenges, but 85 percent of my young ladies are not prostitutes,” she declared.
Miss Barnes is calling for a meeting with Mr, Sweeney, as JSIF is the agency, which has responsibility for social intervention programmes in the community under the ZOSO.
For her part, Olivia Shaw, Founder of the Mt. Salem-based Women of Destiny – a group which seeks to guide and empower young women, said it hurts her to the core that Mr. Sweeney could have issued such a damaging statement, after his agency has been charged with t he responsibility to help to build the community.
“For someone who has power and status, who is supposed to come and work with us now to provide us with the resources to make things better, that same person is going to be saying that the majority of the young women are involved in prostitution. That is appalling”.
“When someone like this, brands Mount Salem as gangs and murder den and now prostitution den, no one will want to be associated with us and to hire us based on the nasty, ugly brand that overshadows the community and its citizens,” an angry Olivia Shaw, who is the reigning St. James Festival Queen, said.
Meanwhile, Damion Crawford, PNP spokesman on Youth, said statements such as this can have long lasting impact due to the stigmatization of communities and their residents.
He said the research, which was done in the form of a focus group of 50 participants, cannot be used to make generalized statements as inflammatory as this about the community.
Crawford said the method used by Sweeney to inform his utterance is extremely flawed, citing that his interactions with the community and its residents suggest that the statement is untrue.