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Antigua’s only Human Trafficking Case Ends with Defendant’s Death

Victims of human trafficking often exhibit signs of fear, anxiety, depression, or submissiveness, and may avoid eye contact or social interaction. Physically, they might have unexplained injuries or signs of malnutrition, and may lack personal possessions or identification documents. Environmentally, they could be in poor living conditions, lack freedom of movement, and have inconsistent or scripted stories. Additionally, they might be under the control of someone else, who insists on speaking for them, or they may work excessively long hours under poor conditions.

The government of Antigua and Barbuda has never convicted a person of human trafficking and it seems it may not do so anytime soon, after the only person whose case was sent to the High Court died on April 28, 2024. 

Nightclub owner Cheryl Thompson died at the age of 65 while facing multiple human trafficking charges. She died while seeking treatment at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) for chest pains.

At the time of her death, Thompson, who operated the Jam Dung Nightclub was charged with three counts of debt bondage in relation to human trafficking, five counts of human trafficking, and two counts of receiving benefits from the services of trafficked persons. The matter was expected to be listed for trial.  

Initially charged in 2018 with three counts of debt bondage, five counts of human trafficking, and two counts of benefiting from trafficked persons’ services, Thompson’s case was marked to be a landmark trial in Antigua’s legal history.

The allegations against her revolve around trafficking several Jamaican women to Antigua and Barbuda between January and February 2018 for the purpose of sexual exploitation, allegedly through deceptive means. Reports indicate that Thompson had faced over 40 human trafficking-related charges for acts committed in 2011, but that case was dismissed in 2014 due to legal implications regarding penalties under the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention) Act.

Human trafficking, particularly for sexual exploitation, has long been a clandestine issue in Antigua and Barbuda. In Antigua and Barbuda, the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention) Unit (TIP UNIT) is the agency responsible for national anti-human trafficking efforts and serves as the principal coordinating entity.

Head of the Unit John Mckinnon, said since the department’s inception in 2017, 110 people have been investigated for crimes relating to human, labour or sex trafficking but only two were ever arrested and charged. During that time nine people, all females, were identified as being trafficked for sex.

Trafficking Stats Antigua and Barbuda provided by TIP Unit

“Two cases have made it to the Magistrates Court and were Committed for trial in the High Court, as Human Trafficking is an indictable offence and must be heard before a Judge and Jury. One case was stood down since when the case came up for trial, the victims could not be located or were unwilling to participate in the trial. The second case was scheduled to be heard in June 2024, but we have learned that the accused recently passed away,” McKinnon explained.

State efforts to eliminate human trafficking

The US Department of State upgraded Antigua and Barbuda to Tier 2 in its 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report for demonstrating improvements towards eliminating human trafficking. The report acknowledged that while the government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking it is making significant efforts to do so.

These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases, finalizing and implementing a new NAP, and updating victim identification and referral SOPs. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not initiate any prosecutions for the third consecutive year and has never convicted a trafficker. The government did not identify any confirmed victims for the third consecutive year. The use of SOPs for victim identification and referral remained inconsistent.

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McKinnon shared that his unit faces several challenges including: 

Public Support: Like other law enforcement agencies, the TIP Unit is reliant on the support of the public to identify, investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. Sadly, the public appears to be wary of authorities and unwilling to share information.

National Culture: Many Antiguans think that we are too small for something like human trafficking, so they pay very little attention.

Resources: While the Government of Antigua and Barbuda continues to increase resources allocated annually, like all crime fighting efforts, the criminals are much better resourced than law enforcement. Education activities such as billboards and PSAs are also very expensive. TIP is also notoriously hidden from the public which makes it difficult to compete for scarce crime fighting resources.

Training: There is a need for more specialized training for investigators and other persons tasked with identifying, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases.

TIP’s priority areas include:

Capacity building:

-Training for frontline personnel to improve detection.

-Training for Police and Prosecutors.

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-Maintain public education campaign.

-Maintain billboards and banners in key locations.

-Education of employers and other persons who may unknowingly engage the

services of a trafficked person.


-Ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Victim care and support:

-Ensure care and support services are available and accessible.

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– Learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.

– Report possible human trafficking.

– Spread the word about human trafficking.

– Report your suspicions to:

o Crime stoppers at 800 – TIPS (8477)

o TIP Unit at (268) 562-7089 / email:

o Follow our Facebook page @ TIPPU Antigua

o Any Police Station

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