Don’t swipe left to reality of sex trafficking

Images from the Immigrant Council of Ireland's campaign to raise awareness of the dark side of the sex trade by inserting fake profiles into dating app Tinder.

A novel, awareness-raising campaign had unsuspecting users of a matchmaking mobile app thinking twice about the dark side of the dating game after they chanced upon on photographs of women trafficked into the sex trade.

The provocative campaign from the Immigrant Council of Ireland was only revealed in the last few days after more than a week of allowing visitors to the Tinder dating app to stumble upon the messages about sex trafficking by accident.

Tinder works by allowing users check out photos and profiles of people interested in connecting with them. If they are not interested, they swipe the photo to the left and discard the profile but if they are interested, they swipe to the right for another photo and more information about the person.

Users can swipe several times as their interest grows, accessing more photos, but in the case of the ICI campaign, fake accounts were set up starting with posed photos of attractive women, with each swipe leading to more downbeat photos illustrating tales of trafficking, prostitution, criminality, and abuse.

The final image was one of several messages urging people to think twice about using agencies offering sex for sale and to join the ‘turn off the red light’ campaign, an effort by a group of Irish charities to get the purchase of sex outlawed.

Some 5,000 people swiped to the end of the ICI messages on the first day of the campaign alone and the number has risen to multiples of that figure since.

Visits to the section of the website where visitors can contact their local TD to call for the legislative changed jumped 700% in the two weeks since the Tinder campaign started.

Denise Charlton, chief executive of the ICI, said the council had supported 60 women who were brought to Ireland to be sexually exploited as part of a prostitution industry that was believed to net its criminal operators over €200m a year.

“Sex trafficking is one of the most lucrative crimes with the sums involved on a par with those for drug smuggling and gun running, yet many people are not aware that it is a reality in communities right across Ireland,” said Ms Charlton.

The campaign attracted huge attention internationally for its innovative approach to capturing the attention of younger people who rarely buy newspapers or follow the kind of news programmes where such issues are normally discussed.

It was devised by communications agency eightytwenty, which specialises in digital media publicity campaigns. Eightytwenty’s Cathal Gillen of said it was the first time Tinder had been used like this in Ireland.

“Tinder has become an extremely popular app in Ireland and it provides us with a unique, innovative and stand out way of communicating to men the issues faced by women involved in sex trafficking,” said Mr Gillen.


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