A young Eastern European prostitute was stabbed in the neck with a needle, beaten and robbed in a city centre apartment during the same period that a major Garda "honey trap" sting operation was being run against men for street soliciting in Limerick last weekend.
he attack on the young Eastern European was only brought to garda attention when they were alerted by staff at Limerick Regional Hospital, where the woman had gone for treatment.
No one has been arrested and no public appeal for assistance was issued. Gardai are examining CCTV footage to try to identify her attacker. She is also being tested to see if the needle was infected.
Gardai last week expressed surprise at the Limerick "honey trap" operation. It is the first time in their knowledge that suspects have been paraded in numbers in court rather than the usual method of being given a "station warning" and allowing their anonymity to be kept for the sake of their families. Several of the 27 men charged are married with families. Two of the 21 who pleaded guilty on Tuesday were subsequently written about in a tabloid newspaper. Both men, one a retired school principal and the other a well-known GAA figure, and both in their 60s, have grown families. None of those charged had previously been before the courts other than on minor traffic offences.
It is also the first time that Garda HQ has alerted the media prior to a case of alleged solicitation coming before the courts. The Garda Press Office issued a release to all news organisations on Tuesday prior to the court appearances. This would indicate that the marshalling of the media was sanctioned at the highest levels in the force, gardai said.
Recently, directions have been coming from Garda HQ for raids on brothels.
Last month, in one busy Dublin station, detectives involved in murder and other major investigations were diverted along with 10 uniformed gardai to raid an apartment where three young Eastern European women were working as prostitutes. A file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to brothel keeping. The maximum penalty the young women are likely to face is a suspended sentence.
In Drogheda last month, two university students from Romania who were working as prostitutes both pleaded guilty to brothel keeping even though they were both said to be working together to raise money for their education fees. Both pleaded guilty, were given a one-week suspended sentence and returned to Romania with the money they had made. A significant garda operation was again involved.
According to one source present in the court last week, the 21 men only realised that they were part of an orchestrated garda and media event when they turned up.
He said: "There's a lot of disquiet. There are rumours flying around. They all looked frightened and embarrassed when they saw each other. I don't think they realised there was a crowd of them in court."
The Garda Press Office release alerting the media was issued at 10.30am on Tuesday, giving reporters time to be present when the first of the charges was called at around 11am. The names, ages and addresses were all called out in court and published.
Judge Eamon O'Brien fined the men €470 each, directing that the money be given to a charity for immigrants in Limerick. Six men have pleaded not guilty and it is understood that one, at least, is claiming entrapment. It is understood that one man claims he was eating chips in his car when he was approached by a woman.
Gardai say the "honey trap" operation conducted in Limerick was the first of its kind; it is expected that other garda divisions may follow suit.
In a statement last week, the Sex Workers' Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) -- which is seeking changes in the law to protect women and men working in the sex trade -- criticised the operation.
SWAI said: "Currently there is a very strong lobby in Ireland which wishes to abolish prostitution. We believe that it is the harms associated with sex work that should be targeted rather than trying to eradicate prostitution. SWAI believes that the operation in Limerick against kerb crawlers was a huge waste of valuable policing resources and Irish taxpayers' money. Attention should be focused on fighting crimes against sex workers, through measures such as those introduced by the British police in Liverpool which make crimes against sex workers 'hate crimes'."
Spokeswoman Dr Teresa Whitaker said that in Britain the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which advises government on policing policy, recommended that the UK adopt the models on prostitution law similar to those in New Zealand and Australia, where sex workers are allowed to operate legally in "small owner-occupied brothels". ACPO carried out a study in the aftermath of the murders of at least nine street prostitutes in Ipswich and Manchester.