THE 102 alleged victims of sex trafficking detected between January 2007 and September 2008 are just the tip of the iceberg — with the actual figure much higher, the organisation behind a new report believe.
At the very least, the women they did find were aware of a further 64 women forced into prostitution in Ireland but who simply had not been identified by the support agencies, says the report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland on Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution.
There are many more who are so well hidden that they might never come to the attention of any organisation.
“This number of 166 trafficked women is an underestimation; trafficking is covert and illegal, and many women who are trafficked remain invisible. It is mainly women who escape, are rescued or who have paid off their indentured ‘labour’ that come to the attention of services,” the authors of the report said.
The 102 women were identified by 10 support groups as being trafficked into or through Ireland.
The largest number of women trafficked were identified by Ruhama, the Dublin-based organisation that works with women involved in prostitution.
The Women’s Health Project, based in Baggot Street Clinic in Dublin, along with the Immigrant Council of Ireland in Dublin and Cork-based STOP Sex Trafficking also discovered significant numbers.
The vast majority of women trafficked were from African countries. A number were from eastern Europe which could be partly explained by the expansion of the European Union in 2004 and 2007, increasing freedom of movement for those from the former eastern bloc. The opening of borders means trafficked women are now less likely to come to the attention of immigration officials.
Of the women identified, 71% were from Africa, specifically West Africa, and 23% were from eastern Europe.
“We do know that the vast majority of women trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation, who were identified in this research, are in indoor prostitution. Just less than half of the women were in prostitution outside the greater Dublin area.”
Information was available on the type of prostitution involved for 84 women.
The vast majority (90% or 76 women) were in indoor prostitution, 6% were involved in both indoor and outdoor, and 4% (3) were involved in outdoor prostitution only.
The research found that 11% of the women trafficked were children at the time they were trafficked to Ireland.
Seven were children (under 18 years of age) at the time of the research and four others were under the age of 18 when they were trafficked into Ireland.
The largest category (48%) were aged between 18 and 24 years.
Women reported being transported by plane, train, bus, car and ferry, and many were transported by several means of transport.
Some came through Britain via Belfast and were then transported to other parts of Ireland.
Of the rest, 9% of the women were trafficked through Italy and some were prostituted in Italy prior to coming to Ireland.
Once in Ireland, the researchers found that some were passed directly over to Irish brothel owners who prostituted them, while others were held and prostituted by the original traffickers.
“In either case, papers are usually taken from the woman. In most cases, the woman is then not only illegally in the country but is without any documents. In this situation, the woman lives in clandestine conditions.
“Her existence is one of isolation and confinement, which makes it difficult for her to escape and seek assistance.”
This study found that, alongside poverty, family dislocation, war and violence, and childhood abuse were key vulnerability factors predisposing women to being trafficked.
Patterns of recruitment reflect similar patterns documented internationally, with the least common form of recruitment being kidnap.
Deceptive recruitment — where women were promised an education and work in domestic and other service sectors — was common, while some women were recruited through the pledge of marriage or a long-term relationship.
“None of the 102 women involved knew that they were specifically being recruited for the sex industry,” the report said. “The accounts of trafficked women are of captivity, isolation, shame and betrayal combined with the trauma of systematic sexual exploitation and rape. For many, their sense of who they are is destroyed.
“They need time to re-build their sense of self, to develop a new identity and to recover from the traumatic legacy of repeated sexual abuse.
“Building relationships in which women feel valued and able to discuss the realities of prostitution is a major challenge for service providers.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved