Time to put traffickers out of business for good
2015-10-15 15:32:31 -
Human Rights

Nusha Yonkova


Human trafficking is a vicious, brutal and exploitative crime which makes thugs rich by subjecting men, women and children to sexual and labour exploitation. It’s a multi-million euro trade of evil, second only to drug smuggling.


Recent events such as Garda operations in Donegal and Sligo, the Government commitment to a National Action Plan to combat trafficking, and the progress of a new sex crimes bill through Leinster House, have brought the activities of pimps, traffickers and thugs into sharp focus.


As a frontline organisation and independent law centre that supports and represents victims of trafficking, the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) has welcomed each of these developments, and believes that as a country we have reached an important moment in our efforts to shut down this crime.


While Garda operations such as that in Donegal are vital to rescue people in immediate danger, it is also important that our laws, policies and regulations keep pace with criminal gangs who use every trick in the book to continue their activities without being detected.


My organisation is proud to be one of the 73 groups, with 1.6 million members, that comprise the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. All are united in the belief that the best way to shut down human trafficking is to target demand.


In terms of sexual exploitation, the way to achieve that is to change the focus of our laws onto those men who make pimps rich by buying sex. Our approach is supported by international studies, the experience in countries where laws already exist, the view of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, as well as our own work representing over 60 women and girls brought to this country for the sole purpose of being raped and abused.


This year alone we have been contacted by women from South America, Africa and the former Eastern Europe. Each story is unique, but there are some alarming similarities. 


One of our clients, Anna, was tricked into coming to Ireland from Eastern Europe with a false promise of a new life. She boarded a plane full of dreams and blissfully unaware of the nightmare ahead.


It was in the car park of Dublin airport that reality dawned. Her ‘boyfriend’ was in fact her pimp who had bought her for €3,000 from a male relative. Within hours she was in a brothel in Temple Bar where she was raped up to 12  times a day, every day. The men who paid to be with her were typically middle-aged, well-educated and rich. This is in line with the findings of a EU funded study on sex buyers which was carried out by the Immigrant Council and other international partners.


Thankfully Anna did find her way to those who were able to help her restart her life. However, with up to 1,000 women for sale online in Ireland on any given day, it raises the question of how many other Annas are out there who we will never reach.


Every frontline agency which works with victims of sex trafficking believes there are, and so does the Garda. When senior Garda officers appeared in the Dáil recently they could not be clearer in their testimony that organised crime runs Irish prostitution.


After years of campaigning alongside the trade union movement, employers, doctors, nurses, childrens rights groups and most importantly survivors of prostitution, we can now report that we stand on the verge of joining the growing list of countries which are wrecking the business model for pimps by targeting sex buyers. The new sex crimes bill is in Leinster House, and we need every one to tell TDs and Senators that they want they law enacted to get organised crime out of our communities.


In addition to the change in the law, we have also been campaigning for better rights and protections for victims of trafficking. The recent rescue of men from labour abuse in Donegal is very welcome, but there are questions which must be answered about the way they were quickly returned to Romania. It is important that the internationally protected rights for all victims of trafficking are respected.


Victims must be given early legal intervention – in other words, access to a lawyer to represent them. There is  a need for safe and secure accommodation that places victims beyond the reach of their abusers and from possible intimidation.


It is important that the Government also follows the practice of other countries in appointing an Independent National Rapporteur to examine our policies and make sure they are robust enough to jail the guilty and protect the innocent.


All of these measures should be included in the new National Action Plan to combat human trafficking. The ICI is currently engaged with the Government in order to formulate that plan.



Nusha Yonkova is anti-trafficking manager of the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

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