Harvesting looks at human-trafficking in Ireland

Former ‘Fair City’ actress Lisa Harding has written a novel about human-trafficking in Ireland, says Olivia Kelleher

FAIR City actress, Lisa Harding, knew little about human-trafficking until she was asked five years ago to read first-hand accounts at the launch of a campaign to combat sex-trafficking of minors.

Lisa, who played Connie in the soap, hadn’t known that Ireland was a destination point for traffickers and sex tourists, or that some of the girls were as young as 12 and Irish.

“I was haunted by what I read that day and the stories wouldn’t let go. I had been pretty naive about it occurring in Ireland.

“I thought it was something that happened in Bangkok.

“It was just horrifying. I remember reading the first-hand accounts and feeling physically sick. I thought ‘how do these girls just disappear?’ I didn’t go searching for this topic. It just presented to me.”

With the germ of a novel in her head, she researched trafficking in Ireland.

Written in the first person, present tense, her book, Harvesting, tells the tale of Sammy and Nico, a girl from Dublin and a girl from Moldova, whose lives collide.

Having written her first draft, Lisa approached the Dublin-based NGO, Ruhama, and CCF Moldova, who work with victims of trafficking. She wanted feedback on her work.

“Trafficking was so distressing that I didn’t want to think about it. Then, I couldn’t let it go. I didn’t censor it. I just wanted to tell the story. The CEOs of the NGOs were wonderfully helpful.

“People who work in the sector were really supportive. I didn’t sit there, thinking ‘Oh, this is going to fit into a particular publishing market.’ I accept that it is harrowing. I just wanted to write it.”

Lisa says she was shocked by the first-hand stories of Irish girls who had fallen into dark situations.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s sex-trafficking trade is worth €250m a year, according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

A study commissioned by the council, in 2014, showed that most buyers of sex in Ireland do not see any connection between their activity and the trafficking of girls and women. It also found that sex buyers are mostly well-educated men in relationships and that two thirds of them earn more than €20,000 a year.

New figures from the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, 2016, published this month, reveal that the number of detected victims of trafficking in Ireland rose from 78, in 2015, to 95 in 2016.

Brian Kilcoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said it is clear that Ireland remains both a destination and source industry for women, men, and children subjected to sex-trafficking and forced labour, including forced criminal activity.

“What’s often not realised is that the majority of victims — seven in 10 — are EU nationals. Women from Eastern Europe are forced into marriage in Ireland and are at risk for sex-trafficking and forced labour. This year, again, a worryingly high number of Irish children count among the total detected figure of 95.”

Nusha Yonkovva, anti-trafficking manager at the Immigrant Council, says it is worrying that victim-identification in Ireland has not improved, despite numerous signals from courts and practitioners that Ireland is failing victims.

“Victims of sex-trafficking remain disadvantaged, due to the woefully inadequate accommodation, where they spend extended periods of time. They are also put at a disadvantage when it comes to viable avenues for victim compensation”.

“The Immigrant Council of Ireland has long been concerned that asylum seekers cannot be identified as victims of trafficking, if they have an asylum proceeding pending. Not only does this mean we are under-identifying victims, it also means many survivors are not able to access the supports they are entitled to.”

Lisa says that it is difficult to convey the horrors of trafficking through statistics. She is hoping her book will put a human face on the crimes against women.

“When it doesn’t directly affect people’s lives and consciousness, they can turn a blind eye to it. It can feel like something from far away. There is a real loss of humanity with trafficking, in how they operate and the ruthlessness. It is hard to grasp how fathers with girls at home can do this. I think visiting prostitutes can feel like a transaction for a lot of men. When trafficked girls are presented, the punter doesn’t know they are trafficked. They don’t know, but nor do they care.”

Lisa has previously written plays, but Harvesting is her debut novel.

Writing, she says, is her future and she doesn’t miss her former life in acting.

“Certain personalities are more suited to acting. I think writing is a better fit for me. I remember seeing my book in Hodges Figgis for the first time.

“It was quite surreal. You always hope that someday it will happen. It really was a dream come true.”

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