Belfast Telegraph

We can't abandon girls to mercy of the underworld

Sex trade: prostitution is a huge industry both north and south
Sex trade: prostitution is a huge industry both north and south

By Liam Clarke

Last April in Cartagena, Colombia, a US Secret Service agent was reported to the police by Dania Suarez for refusing to pay the required $800 fee for spending the night with her.

He was first arrested and then sacked from his job. The Colombian government is demanding an apology from the White House for the incident.

Dania Suarez, the prostitute, is now giving interviews and considering offers for her picture.

Compare that to the scene in Belfast last week where two TV crews waited breathlessly outside alleged brothels while the police battered down the doors, roaring with excitement and aggression as they did so. "Rape for profit," stormed Philip Marshall of the PSNI, in a spirited condemnation of human trafficking.

Everyone would agree if he had freed dozens of sex-slaves and charged their traffickers. Hopefully, he will do so later.

So far, though, the only people charged were three Polish girls, whom the court found were controlled by no one and working willingly as prostitutes from their flat in Belfast.

One was doing it as a temporary job to fund her way through university.

Police seized £2,325 and apparently have not returned it to the women, who were sent home to Poland as broke as they arrived here.

This may be a sordid life and it is not one most of us would wish for our daughters, but is it really worth months of police time and more than 120 raids north and south to arrest and shame these three young people?

Gardai say that, on their side of the border, searches uncovered no evidence of anyone working unwillingly and claimed the whole operation had been 'pushed' by the PSNI.

In another operation in Belfast, officers battered down the door of a flat where a barrister and a journalist lived, looking for an alleged pimp who had moved out six months earlier.

There is no denying that prostitution is a huge underground industry in Ireland, north and south, and that some people are trafficked into it.

The question is how best it can be controlled and harm reduced.

Are dramatic televised raids the way to go?

Or should we consider regulating it and offering prostitutes the protection of the law when they are abused or coerced?

That is what happens in Colombia, not to mention Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and several other European countries.

The day before last week's raids, RTE monitored 686 people offering sex, north and south, on Ireland's leading sex website, which is registered in the UK and pays tax on ad revenue of more than £2m-a-year.

After the raids, the adverts fell to 657 and two days later there were nearer 700. There was no noticeable deterrent effect.

Someone in Stormont needs the courage to take a long, hard look at our ballooning sex industry, staffed largely by vulnerable immigrants.

Why not regulate and police this activity to reduce the harm it can cause?

Prostitution has always been with us - they don't call it the oldest profession in the world for nothing.

We can't legislate it out of existence, but we could legislate to reduce its damage to the health and welfare of those involved.

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