26 trafficked women found working as prostitutes in Ireland, charity says
Twenty-six women who were victims of trafficking were found working in the sex trade in Ireland last year, a charity has said.
Ruhama, which supports prostitutes, said two of the women were 18 when it began supporting them after they had been smuggled into the country as children.
Trafficked women are most likely to come from Nigeria, with gangs targeting the Edo state in the African country, and also routinely smuggling women from Brazil, Romania and Zimbabwe.
Ruhama said its records showed women from 12 other countries were victims of smuggling including Albania, Bulgaria, Ireland, Bolivia, Portugal, Pakistan and six other African countries .
The charity said another 73 women from 18 different countries were supported through its work last year including Ireland, Brazil, Romania, Nigeria, Spain, UK, Germany, Iraq, Lithuania, Russia, Czech, Bolivia, Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, China, Portugal and Uganda.
Sarah Benson, Ruhama chief executive, said: "The bulk of prostitution in Ireland is run by organised crime gangs who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and girls, particularly in off-street locations.
"These unscrupulous individuals make money from human misery - moving often vulnerable migrant women in a coordinated fashion from brothel to brothel across Ireland, with a view to satisfying local sex buyers' demands."
Since March this year it has been illegal for men to buy sex. The old vice law which saw women prosecuted for selling sex was repealed with the new regime to be reviewed in three years.
A woman can legally work as a prostitute if she is indoors and working independently.
Ms Benson said there is anecdotal evidence to suggest men who use prostitution are making more of an effort to establish if the woman is genuinely independent by asking if they are native English speakers.
"The whole point of these new laws is not to target women operating independently but to clamp down on organised gangs and where you have people being pimped or trafficked," Ms Benson said.
Ruhama said demand for prostitution in Ireland is "prolific". It estimates about 800 women work in prostitution indoors every day in Ireland and less than 200 engage in it on the streets in cities.
In its report on services and supports it was involved in last year it said that four trafficked women who it helped were asylum seekers or refugees living in direct provision.
Another four were introduced to the service by gardai and five made contact themselves.
Ruhama said 304 women from 37 nationalities were supported by its work last year including 222 women who were on its casework files, 92 of whom were victims of trafficking.
Ms Benson called on gardai to use the new vice laws properly.
"It is incumbent on gardai to ensure that they do not target vulnerable people in prostitution for criminal sanction," she said.
"The vast majority of those in prostitution are women, and there are also a small number of transwomen and men. All may be victims of many different crimes, including human trafficking.
"Garda focus should be targeted towards the buyers and those who are genuinely profiting from the prostitution of others."