We must all take a stand against this sordid sex slavery
The construction industry is on its knees, manufacturing as a whole is reeling, even the public sector is suffering
About the only business that appears to be weathering the economic downtown is prostitution.
That's the impression you get from the headlines, anyway. The tabloids are teeming with reports of middle class escort girls romping and telling on Wayne Rooney. There's that working class girl off the X Factor having her 15 minutes in the limelight. And all those endless exclusives about actors, public figures, politicians — even world leaders — using call girls and still hoping to keep it private. This despite the obvious point that a girl who sells her body is hardly going to be squeamish about selling her story.
The impression given though, is that it's all good, if not exactly clean, fun. It's a victimless business where celebs get their come-uppance and wannabes get welcome exposure and a bonus cheque for their breathless account of paid-for passion.
The knock-on effect is that the Tango-tanned WAGs who have dominated the gossip columns for so long are currently being elbowed aside by a new breed of publicity hungry scarlet women. Being on the game is suddenly starting to look like an aspirational career option.
Except, of course, that on the streets the reality is a whole lot grimmer than the steamy revelations of some middle class stunna making a name — and a small fortune — for herself would suggest.
It's not all romping, rollicking merriment for those vulnerable, desperate women on Belfast’s Dublin Road hoping to turn a trick to pay for their next fix. It's a sleazy, sad round of exploitation and violence.
But even more horrifying still, is the experience of those terrified and brutalised young women and men who are forced into prostitution through what’s clinically described as “human trafficking.”
Lured from their own countries with promises of good jobs, they're sold on like livestock, imprisoned, tortured, raped. Human trafficking is, as campaigners more bluntly, more correctly, call it, sex slavery. And the monsters who make money from it are no better than the slave masters of old.
So fair play to those politicians in our Assembly who have highlighted this despicable crime and condemned it for what it is. Especially the UUP’s David McNarry, who is now calling for a group to be set up to counteract the vile trade.
When the slave trade was at its height back in the 1790s, people in Belfast took an honourable stand against it. The city’s Presbyterian leaders campaigned against it and refused to open the port to the slave merchants. Over 200 years on, we should be taking a similar stand against this new evil.
Human trafficking is a global business. The problem is right across the UK. Right across Ireland. But because we have links throughout the British Isles, this place has become a central battle ground. The first fight has to be against public apathy.
We've got used to newspaper pictures of those frightened young women, their faces obscured, huddled against their police rescuers as they're led away from hell. But the sorry truth is we get more worked up by stories about horses left in squalor in Co Antrim. Or a cat dumped in a bin in Coventry.
What happens to those girls (and young men) when they are rescued? Are they allowed to stay here? Or forced to return to their homelands? Is there any sort of care provision to help them rebuild their lives? And the most haunting question of all — how many more are there out there in the quiet, unremarkable streets where decent people are reluctant to pry?
As David McNarry says, this vile business is happening in our own backyard. That makes it our business too.