Nearly half of people intimidated by gangs over drug debts were physically assaulted and a third suffered damage to their property, new research has found.
But two thirds of victims, both drug users and family members, did not go to the gardaí, mainly for “fear of reprisal”.
The research, conducted by development worker Lisa Buckley and Dr Johnny Connolly, a criminologist attached to Trinity College Dublin, found intimidation is particularly acute for mothers of drug users and young people .
The study, conducted among 150 people affected, found that 76% of victims suffered verbal abuse. Some 46% said they had suffered physical violence; while 33% experienced damage to their property.
In addition, 25% ended up either selling, holding, and running drugs, with a very small number, which the authors said was probably underestimated, threatened with sexual violence.
“Reports from focus groups suggest that females are often coerced into performing sexual acts to pay off drug debts,” said the research.
“Also, it was widely reported in focus groups that young people are getting into huge debt over weed and then coerced into ‘working the debt off’ by engaging in illegal activities such as holding or selling drugs, money or weapons and/or transporting drugs.”
The report read: “Drug-related intimidation appears to have a strong gender dimension. Although it primarily involves young men as victims and offenders, this study highlights the reality that a great deal of the burden of responding to the problems of drug debt falls on the mothers of those caught up in debt.”
The research, commissioned by Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, said the mental stress on the mothers was “extremely significant”. The report said intimidation also had a wider purpose, “to frighten and subdue a community so as to enforce gang control”.
Debts ranged from €50 to more than €10,000, with about half of them between €500 and €5,000.
It said some young people were being intimidated in schools, and, in other cases, were doing the intimidation, often as part of a network.
The report said there were reports of drug users “being pressurised to shoot people” to pay off debts. In order to pay off debts, some people had resorted to loan sharks and some had even sold their homes.
It said 72% of victims who did not report the intimidation said it was due to fear of reprisal.
The report said “whole areas and communities can be silenced and controlled” by gang intimidation.
Dr Connolly said intimidation was causing “immense distress” for communities, but that the issue “disproportionately” affected certain areas.
He said the problem “largely goes unreported and unrecorded officially”.
He said the onus was on the “players” — the gardaí the Department of Justice, the Garda Inspectorate, and the new Policing Authority — to seriously consider this issue and provide “safety for these communities”.
Dr Connolly said the “war on drugs” had impacted most on deprived communities and urged a serious national debate on drugs.
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