Derry's homeless women 'sexually exploited to survive'
Homeless women in Londonderry are working in the sex trade to keep a roof over their heads, it has been revealed.
In a grim snippet of life on the street for women in the city, the revelation was made by an internal health service paper on prostiution in the city.
It revealed that women “wanting a change of scene” from other parts of Northern Ireland are being sexually exploited in Derry in exchange for money, drugs, alcohol or just a roof over their heads.
The paper provides an “example of a 16-year-old old girl who could not pay off a drug debt and started to work as a prostitute from a house to pay off her debt. Her pimp was a 19-year old female.”
The shocking predicament faced by the teenager is understood to be linked to paramilitaries and is among the details contained in the ‘Commercial Sex Workers’ paper for the Western Sexual Health Strategy Steering Group.
The 22-page document said that despite “anecdotal evidence of brothels in operation in Londonderry and Omagh and stories of girls wanting a change of scene and coming down from Belfast using local hotels” health officials have found it “extremely difficult to provide a service to commercial sex workers.”
“Other issues highlighted were with homeless females in Derry having sex with men at a price whether it be, for alcohol, drugs, companionship, a roof over their head or protection or money.
“This group of individuals mentioned according to project workers would never admit that this is the case but over the years working with these women it was obvious to staff that this was a harsh reality.
“These women change partners frequently, indulging in behaviours that help them survive or feed their addiction,” the report shows.
And it reported that the departure of one single PSNI officer, who had worked to set up a support scheme for sex workers, appeared to have resulted in the failure of the initiative to be acted upon.
“A few years ago because of incidence of commercial sex work in Derry a PSNI officer with an interest in this work had tried to set up an initiative to address this issue but he has moved on now and no one has taken this work forward in the Derry area,” the report said.
The report states: “It was very difficult to access information about commercial sex workers in the Western Trust area. There appears to be anecdotal evidence of brothels in operation in Derry and Omagh and stories of girls wanting a change of scene and coming down from Belfast using local hotels, advertising their services on the internet and certain Northern Ireland newspapers.”
However the report said the anecdotal nature of the evidence made it difficult to for the health service to adequately support the local sex workers.
“Without actually knowing the scale of the incidence of prostitution and where it takes place and what their needs are, it is extremely difficult to provide a service to commercial sex workers,” its authors state.
The paper recommended creating links with staff of local sexual health agencies and support networks like Women’s Aid.