Crackdown on pop-up brothels in heartlands of rural Ireland
RURAL gardai are cracking down on suspected "pop-up" brothels in provincial towns and villages.
In the past month, surveillance operations have led to raids in Roscommon, Donegal, Kerry and Cavan.
Ten women, eight of them from Romania, have appeared before District Courts.
In Letterkenny District Court Judge Paul Kelly directed that €1,200 in cash found in three rented apartments at Pearse Road in the town be returned to four young women who, the court heard, had been working in Ireland to support families including young children in Romania.
One is a qualified nurse who, the court heard, had voluntarily submitted to the temptation to come to Ireland to make money. Two had young children to support and another was sending home money for an operation for her wheelchair-bound father.
In Donegal, a Romanian husband and wife are facing charges of assisting in prostitution. The husband was remanded in custody while his wife was released on €250 bail.
Two men and a woman were arrested for allegedly organising prostitution after they were taken into custody at an apartment in the village of Tarmonbarry on the Shannon in Co Roscommon on Wednesday.
They were released without charge while a file is being prepared for the DPP.
In Kerry, three more Romanian women aged 20, 21 and 36 were charged this week with running a brothel in Tralee town centre, following a raid by gardai on a premises last Tuesday night.
The District Court heard that Tralee gardai had carried out surveillance on a rented flat on North Circular Road for a number of weeks.
The three Romanian women were charged with keeping, managing, acting and assisting in the management of a brothel, and with knowingly permitting a premises on North Circular Road, Tralee, to be used as a brothel. They were given bail after their solicitor told the court that none had funds or bank accounts.
The three women held hands and were in tears during their court appearance.
In Cavan two weeks ago, two other foreign women were given bail after appearing in Cavan District Court charged with running a brothel.
Under Irish law, prostitution is not an offence, but if two or more women are working in the same premises, this can be technically deemed to be a brothel and can be charged. Assisting in organising prostitution is also an offence and anyone deemed to be doing so can be charged.
The arrests and charges arise amid the campaign by female religious orders and other feminist groups, under the umbrella of the Turn off the Red Light (TORL) campaign, to introduce laws criminalising buying sex.
Ruhama, an Irish NGO which works with women affected by prostitution and seeks changes to the laws on prostitution, last week said the trade was being organised in the same way as the drugs trade. They also said prostitution has permeated many rural towns and villages.
No evidence of forced trafficking was given in any of the cases brought before the District Courts in the past month.
Typically, District Courts free women immediately and very often return money to them to assist in returning to their home countries.
Lucy Smith, who now runs a website, UglyMugs, to assist prostitutes in Britain and Ireland, said that the arrests and charging of the young women amounts to persecution.
She said: "Currently policing in Ireland consists of persecuting prostitutes, while nothing is done about the real abuses going on, like criminals abusing and exploiting prostitutes, which does happen."
She said that the gardai needed to stop listening to anti-prostitution groups who "only talk fantasy stories and start engaging with the real sex community – organisations like UglyMugs.ie that actually do know what is going on, where the real problems are, and who want to work with the gardai to combat any and all real abuses".
She added: "I have spent four years working hard running an ugly mug scheme that is used by over 1,000 Irish people in any given month and has recorded over 5,000 incidents in the last four years. Policing of the sex trade in Ireland must change. It is all wrong."