'Financial pressure will lead more women into prostitution over Christmas period' - expert
Financial pressure will lead more women into prostitution over Christmas, an expert body has said.
There is expected to be a "surge" in women who will feel compelled to sell sex in the coming weeks to cope with the financial demands of the festive season, according to the agency.
Ruhama is a Dublin-based non-governmental organisation which supports around 300 women annually who have been affected by prostitution.
The majority of the women are involved in the so-called "indoor sex trade", and are in brothels, massage parlors, apartments and hotels, while one-third are involved in the on-street sex industry.
While it is difficult to know the amount of women involved in off-street prostitution, they said that typically more women will take to the streets to help fund financially-demanding occasions like Christmas and Holy Communions.
Ruth Breslin, Policy and Communications Manager with Ruhama, told Independent.ie: "The majority of Irish women who are involved in prostitution would be those who are on the street and some of them would be involved on and off in street prostitution for years so they might be known to us for a long time.
"If you look online there are hundreds of women advertised, so there are smaller numbers on the streets, those who are involved in street prostitution.
"Definitely over the years we would have noticed a surge at Christmas for women who might not consistently be involved in prostitution, they will go back onto the street at Christmas because they need a bit of extra cash.
"You would often see that there might be surges at other times, like Holy Communions, when women might just need extra money, they're not really seeing it as their job but as a way to get money.
"The profile the women we meet on the street is typically that they might have a lot of issues, such as addiction, mental health issues or debt problems.
"These are women who are in quite dire circumstances, they are probably quite marginalised and impoverished."
She also said that as it is a demand-driven industry, perhaps more men pay for sex at Christmas.
She said: "We have to bear in mind that there are buyers, it's a lucrative industry, if there's more women on the streets does that mean there's more buyers who are just hoping to treat themselves at Christmas?
"Most men don't buy sex but there are some who see it as the same as paying for any other service, they are very much treating the women as products."
Ms Breslin also spoke about the harrowing circumstances that see many women enter into the sex industry.
She said: "It's a very difficult issue, our position is that all of the women we support have been really exploited, many have been abused and experienced violence.
"Many come from marginalised backgrounds, others have been trafficked into it or pimped, so they didn't choose it as a job or a career path.
"There are a small number of women who would describe themselves as sex workers who see it as their job and how they want to make money but the women we support have been pushed into this."
She continued to say: "About a third or the women we are women we work with have been trafficked, usually from a poorer country than Ireland.
"People would have a good sense of what trafficking is but we still meet so many people who don't think it happens in Ireland.
"A lot of the women we support come from countries that are impoverished or where they faced violence and they relied on someone who promised to arrange a job for them in western Europe, working in restaurants or minding kids.
"Lots of them think it's a great opportunity for a better life and they take a chance but when they arrive here they are told by the person that in exchange for arranging things like their travel and documentation (which might be forged) they owe a vastly inflated sum.
"They may then be told that they have to pay this money back by working in a brothel."
Ms Breslin has spoken candidly about the horrific abuse and threats that many women involved in the sex trade here face.
She said: "The vast majority of women we have worked with have told us that at some point they have experienced violence - physical, emotional and/or sexual.
"They might experience violence or threats of violence from a pimp.
"Similarly, women who have been trafficked are often told that their trafficker has pictures of their family and knows where they live and if they go against them that their children and parents will pay the price.
"Women have been told if they try to escape then their kids will be kidnapped."
New legislation introduced in March decriminalises selling sex but made it illegal to pay for it, something Ruhama hopes will help women report attacks to the gardai.
Ms Breslin said: "Women on the street have told us that if they see a guard on the street they're no longer afraid because they know they won't be trying to arrest them, they're more comfortable and this will help them to report attacks and violence to the gardai.
"Tentatively, we feel there's more confidence in the gardai and this new law will help them to go after those who organise and control prostitution and those who buy it and not to criminalise individual women who work in the industry."
- For more information about Ruhama, please visit here