HUMAN TRAFFICKING: A life of vice is never voluntary

Sweden has led the way in tackling prostitution with the introduction of tough legislation and enforcement. Stephen Rogers travelled to the country to learn about the much vaunted ‘Swedish Model’ on dealing with human trafficking. In the first of a two-part series, he compares the Irish and Swedish approaches to what is the world’s fastest growing crime and looks at what lessons can be learned.

THE modus operandi of the police forces in Ireland and Sweden could not be more different simply because of the importance the two jurisdictions assign to the crime.

In Sweden, one of the country’s most influential policemen, Detective Inspector Jonas Trolle of the Stockholm Police Department, spent most of the last 10 years heading up the anti-human trafficking surveillance unit in the city. Now the head of all surveillance, he still runs human trafficking training in the Swedish National Police Academy.

One quote sums up his, and by extension the Swedish government’s, approach to the sale of sex.

“Prostitution is human trafficking,” he says. “Politicians think it is the same thing as well. There is no such thing as voluntary prostitution.”

The Stockholm police force — which only operates in Stockholm city and county, a population of less than one million — has 28 staff solely investigating and carrying out surveillance into the trafficking of human beings.

Detective Inspector Trolle estimates that with the €2.2 million budget he has to carry out the surveillance of the trafficking operations, he and his team can bring three to five big cases to trial and 60-100 small cases per year.

“One case could have 2,000 to 4,000 pages in investigation material especially if there is telephone surveillance.

“These people constantly have the phone to their ear. Up to 50,000 phone calls in a three month period. You have to sift through and ask ‘is this important, or is this important?’.

“We often involve a lot of technology like camera surveillance, phone-tapping, email intercepts and of course physical surveillance.

“The suspect and victims often speak different languages which involves a lot of translation work. It costs a lot of money. That is one of the largest costs for us. It costs €50,000 in translation costs for a big case. That is a lot of money. Often they are talking small languages.”

After so many years working in the area, he has concluded that always when human trafficking arises, it is connected to narcotics, weapons, prostitution, stealing and burglary.

“The networks are connected with different activities within a group. You can always find connections. We need to, as police officers, follow the criminals wherever they go.”

He said the majority of the investigations begin with tip-offs.

“A lot come into the Stockholm police because the Swedish population in general are keen on giving police information on human trafficking. So neighbours, people working in restaurants and in hotels get in contact with us.

“We also have a lot of information from different countries and other authorities. We have a good possibility to get the information.”

The level of information provided by Jonas Trolle, the level of cooperation he gives to the media both in Sweden and abroad, is at odds with the approach taken by gardaí here.

Questions to the gardaí in this area must be filtered through the Garda press office. Non-governmental organisations argue that is because the officers have little to tell the media — because very little resources are being put into targeting the crime.

While a dedicated Human Trafficking and Coordination Unit was established in the Garda National Immigration Bureau in 2009, the lack of prosecutions show that the resources are not being put into making convictions stick.

That is not to say that all gardaí are inactive in this area or that they do not acknowledge there is a human trafficking problem.

The Government would point out:

* A continuous professional development training course entitled Tackling Trafficking in Human Beings: Prevention, Protection and Prosecution, has been designed by the gardaí in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Britain’s Human Trafficking Centre.

* More than 400 operational gardaí have received detailed training to enable them identify and refer victims of human trafficking for support and deal with prosecutions, if appropriate.

* A further 2,674 personnel have received awareness raising training as part of the final phase of their training. That training is now part of the final phase of training for all Garda recruits.

* Training on the investigation of human trafficking related crimes, including victim identification, was also provided recently to all senior investigating officers.

However, the only garda district that appears to be actively addressing and acknowledging the problem is Limerick.

The city has seen a major crackdown on brothels in the last 12 months and a number of suspected victims have been rescued.

Between January and September this year, 40 arrests were made for prostitution and the operation of brothels in the city centre. At least four suspected victims of trafficking, all teenage girls were taken into care, among them a 17-year-old Romanian girl.

Another, an African girl also under 18, was found in a brothel in the city having been reported missing from HSE care in the Dublin area.

At various times in the last few months, senior officers in Limerick have spoken out about the scourge of trafficking in the city.

Inspector John O’Reilly of Henry Street garda station called for a similar initiative to one ongoing in Britain in which posters are placed in pubs and clubs in the major cities which read “Walk in a punter. Walk out a rapist”.

“We are calling on people who are using the services of prostitutes to stop and think for one moment about what they are doing,” said the inspector. “To put their own sexual gratification aside and to look at the victim — the girl that is acting as a prostitute — as a person.

“In order for a person, in my experience, to enter prostitution, they have to be stripped of their dignity, their pride, their self-respect, their identity. Whether they are working for a pimp or working for a human trafficker, it’s very, very similar the bonds that keep them in their sexual slavery. They are terrorising them into doing it. They are in such fear because their trafficker, or their pimp, decides — in the girl’s view — whether they live or die.”

His candour is matched by Superintendent Frank O’Brien, also of Henry Street, who was involved in the most recent suspected human trafficking cases in the city.

“The level of prostitution in Limerick seems to be high and the women involved are mainly Eastern European and some come from Brazil,” he said. “We would be very concerned at the human trafficking involved. We know a lot of young girls come from countries abroad with the promise of jobs. They are then put into a room and effectively expected to work as prostitutes.

“That is the real human tragedy of people being forced to stay here against their will who may have taken out loans to travel. The people bringing in the girls can also have a hold over their families in their home countries and these are serious issues, and we are dealing with our colleagues in other police forces to deal with it. It is a growing problem and we have deployed extra personnel and the figures this year so far bear this out with the number of arrests and prosecution.”

Nonetheless, anti-human trafficking campaigners point out that support agencies have been put in touch with the suspected victims of trafficking located in Limerick.

They also point out that after her location, immediate arrangements were made to get one girl out of the country when it was discovered that she had an outstanding deportation order against her.

That flies in the face of European guidelines which say suspected victims should be given a “rest and reflection” period in order to allow her to recover from her experience and to be able to give evidence against her suspected traffickers.

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While our economic crisis may have dampened the steady demand for sex services, there are still numerous reasons why Ireland is viewed as an ideal location for sex traffickers to ply their trade.

THE WEBSITES

IN 2008, the escort-ireland.com website hired one of London’s top libel firms, Schillings, to write to this journalist regarding a book I was writing on prostitution and human trafficking.

What makes that seem surreal is that this is a website that is advertising sex for sale in Ireland. If the website were hosted here it would be completely illegal. Yet, because it is hosted in Britain, it remains completely immune from prosecution.

Escort-ireland.com advertises up to 700 women selling sex. The graphic details of the services offered coupled with the nude photographs of the women themselves make it clear that while the women are described as “escorts” they are prostitutes.

Escort-ireland is unequivocal that it is opposed to human trafficking and offers lots of contact details for police and support groups to those who have been trafficked or who suspect they have encountered trafficking.

However, by the very nature of allowing the advertisement of so many hundreds of women at any one time, the website facilitates mass prostitution and, therefore, gives a location where would be traffickers could attempt to advertise women who were having to sell their bodies against their will.

As long as escort-ireland.com, and to a lesser extent other websites, are allowed to exploit the legal loophole which enables them to advertise sex for sale here, internet prostitution and the opportunity for human trafficking will continue unabated.

FINANCIAL RESOURCES

THERE is no doubt that the theoretical efforts the State has made to combat human trafficking are an improvement on the “head in the sand” approach previously adopted. The Anti Human Trafficking Unit in the Department of Justice held more than 420 meetings in the last three years with “relevant stakeholders” to discuss how to deal with the problem. Various training seminars have been arranged to familiarise gardaí and pertinent civil servants of the tell-tale signs of human trafficking.

But the simple fact remains that not one person has been prosecuted in this jurisdiction for the specific crime of actual human trafficking.

The Garda were asked to contribute to this feature by putting forward a member of the Human Trafficking and Coordination Unit in Garda National Immigration Bureau to talk about the initiatives the unit was involved in.

A response came back from the Garda Press Office that: “We are considering your request” but no interview was forthcoming.

Unless concerted resources are put into smashing the sex rings which permeate almost every large town and city across the whole of the country, human trafficking will not be stopped.

THE BORDER

THE Government and its counterparts in the north have begun cooperating on a cross-border approach to human trafficking but the joint thinking comes far too late. There have now been numerous reports of women being brought into either Dublin or Belfast and transported over the border into the other jurisdiction to be put into servitude. Quite simply, the border is a perfect tool for traffickers to cover their tracks.

Earlier this year the Children’s Rights Alliance alluded to the porous nature of the border and the opportunity it offers to traffickers.

“It is feared that many vulnerable, missing children have been trafficked,” it said. “Ireland is considered, primarily, as a destination for child trafficking, but also as a transit point for children trafficked to Britain — increasingly, the border crossing between the North and the Republic is being used, as well as the Ireland-Wales ferry crossings.”

At one Garda Immigration Conference, it was revealed that, in the space of just 12 months, almost 1,100 illegal immigrants had been stopped trying to enter the Republic from the north alone. A total of 5,436 people had been refused entry at ports, an increase of 500 on the previous year.

Phil Taylor, director of the Scotland and Northern Ireland section of the British immigration and nationality department tasked with stopping the flow from the north, said at the time that, as far his department was concerned, the trafficking of girls and children was the one area that caused his department the most sleepless nights. He said there was clear evidence of sex workers being moved between Britain and Ireland.

Individuals will be recorded entering one jurisdiction but from that point they will disappear off the radar of the authorities there because they have been driven across.

THE FINANCIAL MELTDOWN

FOR once the banks’ and Government’s financial ineptitude can be seen in a positive light. The utter collapse in the economy has made locating their victims in Ireland an uneconomically viable option. Quite simply, the number of men who can afford to pay €150 for half an hour of sex on a regular basis has declined very rapidly as the dole queues have lengthened and whole industries have collapsed. In order to warrant the risk of putting a trafficked woman into an apartment or hotel room, there has to be a steady demand for custom. Ireland had been a choice location because, despite the country’s small population, the pimp could charge a much higher premium than elsewhere in Europe. Now it is more financially practicable to locate the operations in areas of larger population, even if the price that can be charged is lower.

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