Stop the harassment!
BASSETERRE St. Kitts – IMAGINE taking a stroll in the heart of Basseterre on a cool, bright day, minding your own business only to have your mood disturbed by a vagrant. He or she is either ‘hustling’ you for money or shouting obscenities.
In another instance, you are a business owner who has just opened up the doors to your store only to have an unwelcome guest wander about your place of business and in spite of continuous efforts to have the vagabond put out, he or she insists on staying and making a scene.
If you imagined yourself in situations such as these on an almost daily basis, how would you feel? Imagine these situations being forced upon tourists... then you would understand how they would feel.
It may not seem like a big deal but in an island that relies solely on tourism as its means of making money, it can be and probably is doing more damage than one may think.
Harassment is a term used when one is being disturbed persistently, and while the definition does not seem all that alarming, the experience sheds a completely different light
Speaking with the Chairman of the Beautiful Basseterre Committee, Maurice Witherson, he said that the tourism market is dying and one of the more serious but overlooked reasons behind this is the increased incidents of harassment and the lack of police presence in and around Basseterre which allow the harassment to flourish.
Witherson, who is also the owner of Island Hopper Boutique said that he understands the frustration and feeling that one has during and after being harassed, as vagrants often wander into his store belting awful words and pestering not only him but his employees as well.
He explained that there is a very big gap between the people that are harassed and the people that can do something about it because when complaints are made, they often say that the harassment cannot be that bad and it is often brushed aside as an exaggeration.
He voiced that it is a very real problem and it is one of the major reasons why there is a significant decrease in tourists around Basseterre.
The boutique owner went on to explain that after coming to St. Kitts and being harassed, the tourists go back to their homelands and will not have a good review to give, and that will deter others from wanting to visit. This will lessen the number of tourists visiting St. Kitts and eventually bring down the tourism industry.
He said that letters have been going out to no avail for more than a decade, pleading with the authorities to have a police presence in and around Basseterre to help curb the harassment as it is doing serious damage to the tourism industry.
In 2005, a piece of legislation was passed to amend the Small Charges Act, Chapter 75 and it reads
“Any person who harasses another person on a beach or any other public place commits an offence and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand five hundred dollars or imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or both.”
It also states that for the purpose of that section, “harass” includes troubling, disturbing or pestering whether once or repeatedly.
The chairman repeatedly asked why such a law was passed if no efforts are being made to enforce it.
He further stated that the kind of behaviour put on by these hooligans does not reflect the general character of Kittitians, but they [the ones who harass], instead of the average individuals, are the ones that are putting their stamp on the country when tourists are here.
A suggestion was made to have the vagrants taken off of the streets and those that are in need of mental treatment be given such treatments.
“Something must be done,” Witherson said.
While it is a fact that tourists are not the only ones who fall prey to these vagabonds as a number of locals still receive their share of pestering, one must not forget the important role which tourism plays in the Federation.
When looking at ways to keep the tourism industry ‘on a roll’, one must not overlook even the smallest, seemingly unimportant things, as they may just be the ones to destroy it completely.