Caught in the Web of the sex trade
EU enlargement could mean an influx of foreign sex workers into Ireland. But the sex industry here is already thriving. WILLIE DILLON found plenty of evidence on the net
In another more sheltered era, it might have been an opening line in the lonely hearts column of Ireland's Own. Or the catchphrase for a dating agency for shy rural middle-aged singles. 'Lonely in Louth?'
But this is clearly no dating agency. This is the internet and we're on the website of an escort agency which says it is based in Dundalk. Most people are probably unaware Dundalk has an escort agency. It is likely that even most Dundalk people know nothing of its existence.
There may be a general perception that escort agencies are only to be found in dodgy basements in parts of central Dublin, and maybe in some of the bigger towns like Cork and Limerick. But a brief trawl on the Web quickly dispels this notion.
Navan, Carlow and Tralee citizens, for instance, may be surprised to learn they apparently have thriving escort agencies in their towns, operating under their very noses. These agencies offer seductive encounters with a selection of Irish and foreign women. It is heavily implied - but never explicitly stated - that the service being sold is sex.
The website of the Dundalk agency boasts that it is the first to "provide free constantly updated and comprehensive information and contact details for Irish escort agencies and independent Irish escorts servicing Dundalk and its surrounding areas in County Louth".
This information is accompanied by a photograph of 'today's featured escort'. Emma is said to be 25 and Russian. The picture shows an extremely attractive blonde young woman in a figure-hugging white top and skimpy knickers. Her face is slightly blurred, presumably to protect her identity, but it is clear that she is smiling broadly. Emma is "gentle, quiet, attentive and loving. A real sweetheart!" says the blurb, beneath an 086 mobile phone number.
Seven other girls are also pictured, mostly in very scanty attire. One is entirely naked. They range in age from 19 to 27, and are said to be either French, Chinese, German, English or Irish. The latter is named Sara.
"Our escorts are carefully selected adult entertainment specialists, offering high-calibre personal services to discerning gentlemen seeking discreet encounters," according to the site. It goes on to describe the range of 'dates' which clients can enjoy.
These include dates with two or three girls at a time, fantasy or role-playing dates involving toys, lingerie or uniforms, relaxing erotic massage dates, and strict mistress domination dates. You can also have what the site describes as "the classic girlfriend experience".
Lonely in Louth? Well you needn't be anymore, insists the Web writer.
A short distance down the road, the 'exclusive' Navan agency offers "discreet and professional high-class escort services at very good value rates. You are welcome to visit our girls in their private boudoirs in Navan town or, alternatively, our girls can visit you at your Meath home, hotel, or other venue."
The agency is obviously keen to show off its local credentials. It carries a long list of all the towns and villages which fall within its catchment area - Drumconrath, Nobber, Moynalty, Oldcastle, Kells, Slane, Donore, Bettystown, Duleek, Laytown, Julianstown, Gormanstown, Skreen, Bective, Trim, Dunshaughlin, Summerhill, Drumree, Ashbourne, Batterstown, Enfield, Dunboyne, Kilcock, Mullingar, Ardee, Drogheda and Garristown.
The site has photographs of five women, including one native. "Ciara is a friendly Irish escort. A good-looking girl-next-door, she is vivacious and sexy, and just a delight to be with!"
There are three photos of Ciara in which her face is either obscured by her blonde hair or is slightly blurred. She is 22 and topless. There are links from the Navan site to other escort services in Ireland, Britain, Spain, Holland and elsewhere.
Most of the provincial Irish sites are laid out in a similar format, making it likely that they are the work of the same person. All include each girl's vital statistics - along with the information that they are in almost all cases bisexual. You can only contact these agencies by mobile phone or e-mail.
The sheer scale of the Irish sex industry can be seen after just a few minutes surfing the Web. Type a few basic keywords into a search engine and you will immediately find sites with long lists of agencies and 'independent' escorts. The latter are young women who appear to be working for themselves. However, people familiar with the sex trade say these apparently freelance operators are almost invariably controlled by a pimp.
Continue surfing for half-an-hour and you will be faced with a truly enormous choice of easily available women, offered under all sorts of ingenious headings, including religious denomination. You can, for instance, choose Catholic or Protestant escorts. All you need is a phone and plenty of money.
People who are familiar with this shady terrain are adamant that nobody need be fooled by the consumer friendliness of the word escort. They say what the coy website euphemisms deliberately avoid saying - that this is straightforward sex for sale. In other words, prostitution.
The internet has been a godsend to the prostitution industry - in Ireland and everywhere else. It is now ridiculously easy to contact a prostitute and it is more likely than ever that you will be able to contact one in your locality.
Many of the prostitutes working here are from Eastern Europe and have been brought into Ireland by illegal traffickers. Fears were expressed this week that large numbers of foreign sex workers will travel here legitimately when 10 new countries join the EU next May.
The sheer number of websites would suggest there are literally hundreds of women now quietly plying their trade throughout this country. But because of the secretive nature of the business, it is impossible to put accurate figures on this. People who know women involved in prostitution tell of the reality which lies behind the come-hither websites with their seductive images. The first thing, from the client's point of view, is that the gorgeous, sexy-looking woman in the photograph may not be the one they will meet. And the encounter will probably take place in what one source described as "a scummy apartment" - far from the elegant surroundings hinted at in the blurb.
From the woman's point of view, the reality of prostitution is an unremitting exploitation by those who control them - either foreign traffickers or domestic pimps. That's the strong view of an expert who has helped women trying to leave this twilight world.
"Women who become involved in prostitution are frequently vulnerable. They may come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and have low self-esteem. They may be victims of violence and abuse and are often dependant on drugs or alcohol.
"There is a myth that indoor prostitution is somehow better than working on the street. It is not. You are very controlled. It depends on what pimp you have. He may interview you for the job by having sex with you. He might sit in when you're having sex with the first few clients. "Clients are frequently violent. Sometimes what happens has nothing to do with sex. Women get tied up with ropes. Knives are used. A lot of time it may be about power. It is just horrific. Women are beaten up or raped. A lot of women don't report this because they think it's part and parcel of the job.
"You will meet women in prostitution with wonderful smiles who will say they are happy. But you have to ask yourself, are you meeting the real person. . . . Women feel they have to smile; no one will buy an unhappy hooker. When a client comes in they have to work out which fantasy does he want and they have to be that. They are involved in role-playing all the time.
"I haven't met any woman who feels happy and content and fulfilled and enhanced by prostitution. Usually, they are psychologically and physically very damaged, dosed with drugs, and full of guilt, shame and secrecy.
"They will say: 'I feel like a toilet bowl or a piece of meat'.
"The real test of whether a woman is happy to be involved in prostitution is whether they would tell their families or their children what they do, and of course the last thing they want is for other people to find out.
"Usually a woman will say I need the money, I will only go into this for a couple of months. But it usually doesn't work that way. You can get addicted to the money. Once you get into prostitution, it's very hard to get out of it." "People who work with women in this situation do not refer to them as prostitutes, but as women who are involved in prostitution. After all, they are women first and foremost, and maybe if more people saw them as women, they might be less able to use them for prostitution."