Human trafficking numbers 'tip of the iceberg'

The number of victims trafficked into Ireland who seek help to escape the vice trade are just the tip of the iceberg, it was claimed today.

An organisation, which supports women trapped in prostitution, said more resources are needed to eradicate the abuse of people forced to work in the sex industry.

Geraldine Rowley of Ruhama said without proper protection, trafficked women could be deported or forced in to hiding and back in to a vulnerable situation.

"We are aware of more than 200 cases of women trafficked to work in the sex industry over the last eight years, and are continually meeting new victims, but we know that is only the tip of the iceberg," she said.

"Without more resources to help the victims of trafficking we will never be able to eradicate it. It could in fact cause victims to be re trafficked."

The plight of men, women and children brought in to Ireland for sexual exploitation will be highlighted at an ecumenical service in Dublin tonight.

Marking Not for Sale Sunday, the service - in St Ann's Church, Dawson Street, Dublin at 8pm - is being held under the auspices of the Church of Ireland and APT (Act to Prevent Trafficking), a Roman Catholic faith-based group working against trafficking in persons.

"The issue of human trafficking is such a seriousness issue and it is finally coming in to the conscious of people here," said a spokeswoman.

"This is a religious acknowledgement of the seriousness of the problem and an opportunity to say that women's, children's and men's bodies are Not For Sale."

Figures released earlier this week revealed 441 foreign children went missing from State care between 2000 and 2007, with 388 still unaccounted for.

It is feared that some of these children, who travelled in to the country unaccompanied, were trafficked to work in the sex industry.

Ms Rowley continued: "Most people in our area of work have a lot of concern over the number of children going missing.

"We have come in contact with a small number of children who were trafficked in to the country, arriving as an unaccompanied minor, and went missing from care.

"They were picked up by the trafficker and put back in to prostitution. These were mainly 14 and 15 years olds from Africa.

"It is quite concerning because these children could have been picked up quicker but slipped through the system and continued to be abused for a number of years."

Ms Rowley said the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, which will come into force with effect from June 7, will make some difference to victims of sexual exploitation.

The Act creates separate offences of trafficking of adults and children for labour and sexual exploitation. It also makes it an offence to sell or offer for sale, or to purchase or offer to purchase, any person, adult or child, for any purpose.

However, she stressed more measures need to be introduced in the upcoming Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill.

"Currently the victims that are being helped are the victims that are able to get away from the situation and come forward for help," added Ms Rowley.

"We are trying to reach out and get the message out to victims that there is help out there. We must find ways to reach out and free the victims of exploitation."

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