Women lured here and forced into sex
Prostitution statistics can never tell the human stories of anguish behind the Irish sex trade, writes Joanna Kiernan
ROSE'S grandfather introduced her to Jay, a man in his 30s, when she was still a teenager. Jay promised to escort her to Western Europe where he would arrange work for her. He seemed trustworthy and she was excited at the prospect of living and working away from home.
Jay brought Rose to an apartment in a rural area of Ireland, which he rented, and for the first few days everything was fine. Then, one day, Jay brought a man to the apartment and told Rose that she was to have sex with him.
Each day after that there were more and more men, as many as 10 on some days. The men were both Irish and foreign. She did not want to do this but when Rose objected to having sex with these men Jay would beat her. She soon stopped objecting.
Jay did give Rose food, but she was never allowed outside of the apartment and received none of the money that was earned through her prostitution. Neither medical assistance or condoms were available to her.
Luckily for Rose, Jay left the apartment one day and never came back, but she was then left homeless and penniless in a foreign country.
Rose is just one of the 150 victims of trafficking that Ruhama, a group that works with women exploited in the Irish sex industry, has come across since the year 2000. The names of those involved have been changed to protect the victims from further violence and abuse.
Prostitution in Ireland today has many faces. Women in prostitution come in all shapes, sizes, ages and creeds. Those who work on the streets are considered the bottom of the food chain, many of whom are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
Some prostitutes may work the streets in a statement of independence from brothels; many are told to work by boyfriends or partners.
The majority of women working in the Irish sex industry are non-Irish but are not, in the main, found on the streets.
Online 'escort agencies' provide a thin legal veil for indoor prostitution. "The escorts advertised on this website are not prostitutes and will not provide sexual services for payment. However, if, during the course of your appointment, you both become attracted to each other and engage in sexual activity it will be between consenting adults and a matter of choice," states Irishbirds.com
While some argue that escorting does not promote prostitution, it would not take too much reading between the lines to draw a different conclusion.
Others are more willing to acknowledge the possibility of an overlap between the two. "Ladies not familiar with the Irish escort industry should be aware that men using escort services in Ireland generally expect sex, and ladies working as escorts in Ireland generally provide sex. As far as Escort Watch Ireland knows there are no social companionship only escort agencies operating in Ireland." says Escortwatchireland.com
Often people dismiss street prostitutes as drug addicts feeding a habit, but many began prostituting themselves for other reasons. The simplest of reasons given for such work are perhaps the most alarming: needing money for kids' school supplies; not to disappoint at Christmas; or even to afford Holy Communion outfits. They are housewives, students, grandmothers, daughters and friends.
From Ruhama's experience: "Most women find themselves in prostitution as a result of debt, coercion by a pimp or partner even, low self esteem or some underlying background issue." Many planned only to do it for a short time in order to 'get the money I need and get out,' but getting out is then very difficult. Many women speak of having to 'numb themselves into it' ''. Gerardine Rowley, of Ruhama, explained: "We often hear of a woman resorting to a bottle of vodka in order to make herself go out on the streets." Others live with the psychological scars left by constantly attempting to switch off and disassociate themselves from what is happening.
Prostitution is an isolating profession, as Gerardine put it. "There are no normal relationships in prostitution. Often women coming to us will say 'I just want a normal life and a normal job'. We have helped them with training and education. Many of the women are very intelligent, but they live in the constant fear of their past being found out, or having to explain the gap in their CV. Though many have got out of prostitution successfully and achieved this 'normal' and happy life that they had hoped for."
Often women who work in prostitution will live almost double lives, keeping their work a secret from the people closest to them, especially their children. Women can work for years without being found out, but live in constant fear of being rumbled.
What is guaranteed, at some point, for these women is sexual violence or the threat of physical harm. This is now considered common in both street and indoor prostitution and often accepted as an occupational hazard.
Demand for prostitution in Ireland is very strong, with about 50 men visiting the average brothel a day. The website www.escort-ireland.com tells us that the average Irish punter is a non-single, native, white male, in his mid-20s to 40s, who has been highly educated and holds a respected form of employment.
One punter apparently bemoaned the fact that "the number of Irish ladies has dropped," in Ireland's prostitution scene in recent years. Another added: "I would prefer to see more Irish and Western European girls, as I have a fear that some are being exploited, as they have little or no English."
The constant demand within the industry creates an enormous international trade in women and children for sexual exploitation.
The CIA estimates that traffickers worldwide can earn up to $250,000 (€160,000) per trafficked woman, depending on age, appearance and destination.
"The internet has made prostitution more accessible for the users," according to Gerardine Rowley. The Garda say that, although advertising for brothels is illegal, "the advertising on websites not using the national domain registry can be difficult to investigate and prosecute because they are using servers outside the jurisdiction."
Gerardine believes that "The increase in indoor and online prostitution has made it possible for women to be pimped out quite easily."
Ruhama confirmed that it offered services to 44 victims of trafficking during 2007. A total of 33 of these cases were new referrals. One woman was found to have been smuggled. Five other cases had been trafficked into countries outside of Ireland but escaped here for help. Of the remaining 27 cases, which were identified as trafficked into Ireland, 13 were women from Nigeria.
"Women can be ashamed or afraid to tell what happened to them," says Gerardine Rowley, "A lot of women will not put their hand up and say 'I'm a victim of trafficking'."
Even women who choose to come to Ireland to work in the sex industry, often find contracts change on their arrival and, once they become involved with a pimp, the situation becomes one of control, violence and exploitation.
Most of the trafficking victims aided by Ruhama had been held at locations outside Dublin, such as Kilkenny, Athlone, Waterford, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda, Monaghan and Donegal.
This has led Ruhama to call for more specialised personnel within the Garda to deal with this issue. "A lot of Garda hours are needed to crack this crime. We have the vice squad based in Dublin but it is no longer adequate. The problem is beyond this catchment area. Even at this, their resources have been cut by almost 50 per cent in the last number of years." Three of the trafficked women aided by Ruhama during 2007 were discovered to be minors. All three girls were 17 years old when they came to Ruhama's attention, but one had been trafficked into Ireland three years earlier when she was just 14. "A lot of the women will tell us that all they saw of Ireland was Dublin Airport and the house where they were kept. They just want to move on with their lives.
Some want to stay and return to the dreams that may have brought them here initially, getting a job or studying, dreams that were shattered by the nightmare of exploitation."
Almost half a million people are estimated to be trafficked into the European Union annually. Europol says hundreds of corpses of trafficking victims are found each year, having been beaten, shot or strangled.
The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, which came into effect here on June 7, makes the crime of trafficking an offence for the first time in this State, it has also made the purchasing of a victim of trafficking for sex a criminal act.