Wednesday 14 November 2018

Sex workers abused by men posing as gardai

Prostitutes 'raped and robbed every day' but are too afraid to report attacks to authorities

Picture posed.
Picture posed.

Jim Cusack

Predators posing as gardai are preying on sex workers - in some cases demanding sex and robbing them of their cash, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Uglymugs, an organisation that works to improve the safety of prostitutes, said sex workers are being raped, robbed and subjected to other violent crimes almost every day, but are too afraid to report the attacks to gardai.

It has appealed to new Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to direct officers to engage "more sympathetically" with sex workers.

The organisation's main Irish organiser, Lucy Smith, said one sex worker who was brutally raped last week was too scared to report the abuse to the authorities.

Ms Smith told the Sunday Independent: "There are many reasons why sex workers won't report crimes. There is the whole stigma thing and some fear that if they make a complaint it will go on the Garda PULSE records that they are prostitutes and if they leave they can't get back into the country. That has happened with women from South America.

"There have also been so many instances of men posing as gardai coming into sex workers' apartments and demanding cash and free sex. This is very common and well known throughout the community and many escorts are uncertain if these men are gardai or not. They are pretty certain, in some cases, these are corrupt gardai.

"That is very frightening and one of the big reasons they are afraid to report crimes."

Figures compiled by the group, which provides counselling and shares information in the sex work community, show there has been an increase of 15pc in crimes against sex workers.

However, the group estimates as little as 1.5pc of crimes against sex workers are actually reported to the gardai. Some 2,000 sex workers who were surveyed said they have been victims of "serious" crimes.

Ms Smith added: "It is normal for sex workers to suffer serious crime. We hear very disturbing things such as escorts who have been strangled and who ring to ask us if it is normal to have spots on their faces after being strangled.

"They get these spots on their faces that are burst blood vessels from strangulation.

"They believe there is no chance of prosecutions, and, to the offenders that is an encouragement to re-offend. It's as if it is allowing the decriminalisation of crimes against sex workers."

Ms Smith said Ireland lags "far behind" other countries. In the UK crimes against sex workers are passed on to the British police's Serious Crimes Analysis Section which compiles data on sex offenders.

"That was set up in the aftermath of the Yorkshire Ripper case and compiles data on violent offenders, There is clearly established history that offenders will attack sex workers first before moving on to attack others. It is known as the 'test victim' where serious offenders often target sex workers first."

Ms Smith said she has repeatedly tried to engage with garda management on the issue, but has repeatedly been refused meetings.

"They say they only want to know about trafficking. I have written to Commissioner O'Sullivan, but didn't get a reply. I would again appeal to her to engage with the sex work community. There are cases where offenders are known to their victims and who go on to commit more serious offences and even murder."

Uglymugs.ie, which has issued figures for the numbers of crimes reported to it by sex workers since it was established in 2009, says that out of a total of more than 2,000 incidents reported to them - from robbery to sexual assault to intimidation and threatening calls - only 1.5pc were reported to gardai.

Serious incidents rose from just under 400 in 2012 to 452 last year. In all, Uglymugs says it has received reports of 5,084 "incidents" since 2009, of which it categorises some 2,000 of these as crimes.

The highest number of crimes was in Dublin, with a total of 756. Some of the most serious include kidnapping and false imprisonment, rape and sexual assault.

Ms Smith added: "Escorts have been knocked unconscious and woken up in fields or in forests and are still afraid to report to the gardai.

"They feel they will receive no help at all and they need help," she added.

A Garda spokesperson told the Sunday Independent that "all reports and those reporting are treated in the strictest confidentiality and sensitive manner."

Sunday Independent

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