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I never knew how many men I'd have to see... it could be up to 20 a day

SITTING here in front of me, it's hard to imagine the horrors Joy has witnessed.

Witnessed and suffered.

Dressed neatly in jeans and a tee-shirt, she'd pass for a well-dressed student.

Shy as she talks, the emotion within Joy is quite apparent. Hardly surprising given her shocking story.

Trafficked into Ireland at just 17 to become a sex slave here, Joy is the evidence of human trafficking here. We've all heard about it but this is the human proof of a trade that is hardly imaginable in modern Ireland.

Joy (her name has been changed to protect her identity) was lured here by the promise of a better life.

At first she was elated. She was escaping Nigeria and her foster father's sexual abuse.

Desolate

Two days after she arrived in Dublin with a fake passport, provided by her hosts, the schoolgirl's worst nightmare unfolded.

She was taken to a desolate house deep in the Irish countryside.

There, in no uncertain terms it was explained she was going to be a prostitute.

A regime of terror unfolded. Joy was threatened constantly. She was only spared beatings by her traffickers so customers would not be put off by bruises and cuts.

She was kept on her own, in quiet locations, so she could neither escape nor attract attention. She lived in rooms that were stark and unwelcoming, but which suited her captors' purpose.

"I was very frightened and didn't know how I could escape the people I met there [who were both Irish and foreign]," Joy told the Herald.

"They told my family that they had helped me, given me money and that I now owed them €70,000. They threatened to kill me if I ever tried to return to Nigeria.

"Before I arrived in Ireland, I was told that I should keep away from the guards because they were very violent and if they didn't kill me, they would beat me and deport me.

"I was so confused. The country was new to me, there was no one I could contact, and the only person I knew in Ireland had put me in this situation. They kept me in a house that was very isolated, there was no other building around, it was in the middle of a sort of forest.

"I couldn't scream for help, I couldn't do anything," she remembered.

Joy was moved from place to place so her pimps were less likely to get caught. The only money she was allowed to keep was just enough to pay for transport.

Every time Joy was taken to a different town, she was given enough cash to take a taxi on her own that was booked for her.

This allowed her traffickers to keep a close watch on her, without standing out as her pimps.

On those rare occasions, Joy would spend any remaining change on food that she purchased on the way.

"I only had water and a bit of bread when I went to that first house," she recalls.

"I would go days without having any food because the places where I was staying were so far from everything, and I had to give all my money to the people who were using me.

"I was so afraid all the time, I never knew who would come through the door, and how many men I would have to see, if it was going to be 20 a day...

"I was always crying and complaining so I wasn't getting many clients. I would make €700 a week, sometimes a lot more."

Victims of the sex trade are often expected to make up to €1,000 a day, or ten times what Joy made in a week.

"Most of the men who showed up were white Irish men," the young woman revealed.

"If I had been in my country, I could have escaped, but I didn't know even know where I was."

Joy's month-long ordeal came to an end when the brothel where she was kept was raided.

She believes that she may owe her release to one of her 'clients', although she has never been able to confirm it.

"He realised that there was something wrong, he asked me why I was unhappy, and if I wanted to do this.

"He was the first person who had asked me that -- they all think you want to be doing this.

"He said that he would help me, he didn't tell me how, but he didn't abuse me, and he gave me money."

Joy was rescued days later.

"It felt like it was a miracle," she remembered, adding that she would not have managed to escape on her own and would have struggled to cope with her desperate situation.

"I've never even smoked in my life, but I considered taking drugs when this happened because I didn't want to think about what I had to do, what my life had become," she said.

Her case is now under investigation, but Joy still fears for her safety. Her captors threatened to take her to another country if they ever found her. They told her her she would die if she returned to Nigeria or spoke to gardai. But she wants to see justice done

Ruhama, an organisation that supports women who have been affected by prostitution, have provided her with accommodation and legal advice help to get back on her feet.

Although she now feels safer and has regained her self-esteem through full-time study, the young woman will have to bear the trauma of her abuse throughout her whole life.

Dark

"When it gets dark, I don't go outside, and when I hear someone use the buzzer at my door, my heart races," she says.

"I always used to dread hearing the buzzer because it meant that I would have to see another man, and I hate that sound now, I remove my buzzer unless I'm expecting someone.

"For a while, I thought I was nothing but a waste of space, that I was disgusting and useless, but Ruhama set me back on my feet and I'm working on my self-esteem and confidence."

Joy has also regained hope for the future thanks to someone special, her toddler who keeps her busy.

Ruhama asked for details concerning Joy's child to remain hidden for their protection.

"I don't have time to be depressed because I have a baby, we play together and it makes me happy," she said with a fragile smile.

"I will tell my child what happened to me eventually, so that (her tot) grows up knowing that you shouldn't trust strangers, and women deserve to be treated well."


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