Last year Ruhama assisted 200 women from 36 countries. Ninety-one of these were the suspected victims of human trafficking and 22 were new cases. They also helped another 41 women through their street outreach work.
Ruhama chairwoman Valerie Judge said: “There is no other service in Ireland to assist women in the often complex process of exiting from prostitution, despite the reality that up to and over 90% of those in prostitution wish to get out.
“While each woman has a unique experience of prostitution, the harm and violence inherent in the sex trade remains consistent in all their stories, irrespective of whether they were involved in street-based or indoor prostitution.”
Ruhama chief executive Sarah Benson said the experiences women reported to the service last year “sadly echo those reported by women every year for the last 22 years”.
“We heard about physical and sexual assault, degrading and humiliating verbal abuse, hyper-vigilance and constant tension, feelings of isolation — from other people and from the rest of society — panic attacks, depression, and suicidal feelings,” she said.
“Most people in society know that prostitution is harmful; no parent this week, as they sit with their children discussing CAO offers, will be considering prostitution as a career option for their son or daughter.”
Ruhama said it had fewer new referrals from victims of trafficking last year but believed this was due to the “changing methods of control used by traffickers”.
“The over-reliance on the immigration system to detect victims of trafficking and the fact that most victims are forced to make their own escape from traffickers if they are to access help, results in a relatively low number of victims receiving assistance in Ireland,” said Ms Benson.
In 2011, Ruhama worked with services that supported vulnerable young people as part of its preventative work and also helped workers support any young people affected by prostitution.
Ms Benson said: “Ruhama has always been aware of the serious issue of underage prostitution; in particular, children who are without family supports and/or have a pre-existing experience of abuse are highly vulnerable to grooming and coercion into prostitution.”
In 2011, Ruhama supported three minors whose support was continuing now they had turned 18.
While some of the women only want help in the short term, most of Ruhama’s clients are women who seek ongoing help.
Up to 56% of the women it dealt with last year had begun with the service in previous years.