Thursday 21 February 2019

Suspected 'sex slave' under 24-hour guard

Gardai told they can't yet release image of girl found in city centre

Jim Cusack

A DISTRESSED girl who is believed to have been trafficked into Ireland to work as a sex slave is now under 24-hour armed protection in hospital as gardai try to find out who she is.

The girl, who is believed to be 13 or 14, has had to remain in hospital since she was found over a fortnight ago because the Health Service Executive (HSE) does not have suitable secure accommodation for her.

Gardai returned to the High Court last Friday seeking permission to release the girl's picture to the press in an attempt to help identify her.

They were again told that this cannot happen until the girl is in permanently secure accommodation in the care of the HSE.

The girl was in a highly distressed and confused state when she was found wandering outside the GPO on O'Connell Street a little over two weeks ago. She is unable to converse but speaks a few words that suggest she is of Eastern European origin.

In a highly disturbing case of suspected human trafficking, it has emerged that the girl was drugged when she was found.

This, along with her inability to speak and aspects of her demeanour, led gardai to believe she may have been held in captivity and is possibly a victim of trafficking.

It appears that she cannot read or write. But she has made infantile drawings of stick figures, one depicting a larger male figure lying on top of a smaller female figure, which led gardai to suspect she was the victim of abuse.

Another drawing depicts a woman and child, with a cross drawn over the woman, suggesting to gardai that her mother may be dead.

The 13- or 14-year-old girl is in constant fear of men and cowers when they come near her.

She is attended around the clock by female gardai with an armed garda officer outside the hospital room.

She remains in a distressed state but is said to have improved slightly. She is still terrified of men.

The girls has braces on her teeth and appears to have had orthodontic work and gardai have been contacting dentists throughout the country in an attempt to discover if she had the work done in Ireland but so far have had no success.

The girl, who has fair hair and a pale complexion, does not match the description of any missing person on garda or other police forces' missing persons list.

Her picture was forwarded to the international police agency Interpol on the day she was found, which circulated her image and details to international police forces.

So far, there has been no response.

Gardai desperately want to release a picture of the girl's face to the international press, in their ongoing efforts to identify her.

But the High Court ruled that this could not be done until she was in permanent secure accommodation under the care of the HSE, a decision which is hampering the investigation, sources said.

Under the Childcare act, images of children in care can only be released, where it can be shown to benefit the child. In this case, however, the High Court has ruled that it cannot be done until she is in secure accommodation.

The HSE has appointed a legal guardian for the child but has no suitable accommodation for her, where she can be protected.

Until that is provided, the child will be under the protection of two gardai working in shifts, which means six gardai will be on duty protecting her every day.

Gardai attached to Store Street station have been collecting CCTV film from Dublin city centre on the day she appeared.

They have yet to discover how she came to be on O'Connell Street.

The shocking plight of the teenager has also been overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the case of the two Roma children who were taken from their parents last week on unfounded suspicion that they were not the genetic offspring of their parents.

The discovery of the girl is one of the most disturbing cases of suspected child trafficking to emerge in recent years.

According to official statistics gathered in the Department of Justice, sex trafficking continues to be the most likely form of trafficking to be reported to the authorities.

The most recent figures for 2011 show that 57 people were trafficked into Ireland, a slight decline on the previous year.

However, Ruhama and other organisations working with trafficked women and children say that the unofficial figures are higher.

In most reported cases, the victims of trafficking are women, but children and those under 18 account for roughly a quarter of trafficking cases.

Sunday Independent

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