Tina Dia, a Nigerian who first came to Ireland to work as a 17-year-old, said she lived for almost four years as a virtual prisoner before orchestrating her release.
Now 24, she came to Ireland to work with an African family based in Dublin, where she was not paid a wage, worked every day, and did not receive any holidays.
She told those attending a student-run law conference in University College Cork that during her three years and 10 months at work, she could not stay in touch with her family, make friends or pursue her studies and lived in fear of her employer.
One day Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door, and she took the chance to tell them of her ordeal. They in turn contacted the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).
“I just happened to answer the door,” she said. “I was mostly alone in the house.”
The conference heard from a number of speakers, including MRCI legal officer Virginija Petrauskaite, the director of Anti-Slavery International on trafficking in the international sphere, Aidan McQuade, Mick Quinn of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit from the Department of Justice, and Héilean Rosenstock-Armie of the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
Delegates heard sectors vulnerable to trafficking and worker exploitation included restaurant work, car washes, and entertainment, including circuses. Mr McQuade said garment manufacture, particularly for young girls and women, was also a sector vulnerable to modern day slavery.
Ms Petrauskaite also warned of trafficking for the purposes of cannabis cultivation in some parts of the country.
She said people needed to be educated to help spot the signs of trafficking and forced labour as, typically, victims of forced labour will not self-identify.
Mr Quinn, meanwhile, echoed that view, claiming there was a general need for awareness raising and claiming that a “nosey neighbour” could be an ally in identifying cases of trafficking and exploitation.
Ms Rosenstock-Armie pointed out that those in the asylum seeker process cannot apply to be identified as a victim of trafficking. The conference was told the key to removing people from exploitative situations was early identification.