Gardaí are warning sex workers about a roaming gang of men who are booking as individual clients but turning up in a group and violently robbing them of their earnings and valuables.
The alert was issued after a spate of “terrifying attacks” in recent weeks, with seven known incidents since the middle of October. Four of the attacks have happened in Dublin and three in other counties.
Gardaí said violence is being used and that, in one incident, a sex worker was forcibly tied up during the robbery. The attacks have targeted both female and male sex workers.
A statement issued by Garda HQ said the 'Operation Quest' team at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) was assisting local detective units on the attacks.
“Since the middle of October seven attacks have occurred nationwide on sex workers advertising sexual services online,” it said. No arrests have been made, but gardaí say investigations were at an advanced stage.
“The motive for these attacks appears to be monetary gain, although violence has been used and they have been terrifying incidents for the injured parties (female and male) involved," it said.
It said gardaí were treating injured parties with the "utmost sensitivity and confidentiality”.
The head of the GNPSB, Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly said it was one particular group of men involved in the attacks.
He urged any sex worker who may have been subject to a similar attack to immediately report it.
“We are concerned that there could be more, so we are appealing for anyone with information about attacks to contact any garda station or to call the Garda Confidential line on 1800 666 111,” he said.
He said the selling of sex by an individual was not a crime and that since the introduction of new laws in 2017 it was the client who has committing the offence. Chief Supt Daly urged sex workers to be vigilant, particularly when taking bookings online from clients.
Kate McGrew, sex worker and director of Sex Workers' Alliance Ireland, said sex workers and gardaí “have known about these criminals for some time”. But she said sex workers have been refusing to contact gardaí, claiming their trust in them is at “an all-time low” after the law was changed in 2017.
She said sex workers are prohibited from working and living together for safety as they risk being prosecuted for “brothel-keeping”. She said criminals can “realistically assume that sex workers will be alone and defenceless if attacked”.
UglyMugs.ie reported last March that in the two years since the law was enacted in 2017 there had been 740 reports of violent crime on sex workers, compared to 385 in the two previous years.