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Detective Chief Superintendent Colm Noonan and Detective Superintendent Derek Maguire brief media on recent actions against human trafficking for sexual exploitation Leah Farrell
Sex Trade

Gardaí probe concerns of sexual trafficking in the south-west

Enquiries have also been launched into a ‘pimp’ operating in an undisclosed part of the country.

GARDAÍ ARE LOOKING into concerns over the alleged trafficking and sexual exploitation of “several” women in the south-west of the country, following an operation aimed at protecting sex workers.

They have also launched enquiries into reports of a “pimp” operating in an undisclosed area who is believed to be controlling the wages of the sex workers under their employment.

On Thursday 24 and Friday 25 November, An Garda Síochána conducted an intelligence-led operation into the sex work industry spanning 11 counties, including Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Longford, Galway, Dublin, Kildare, Donegal, Cavan and Louth.

During the course of the operation, it identified 46 people as having allegedly purchased sexual services from one individual across two days.

Five search warrants were executed in relation to the organisation of prostitution and two sums of €3,000 and $500 were seized from a male suspected of being involved in organised prostitution.

A liaison officer attached to the Organised Prostitution Investigation Unit was contacted by an individual sex worker who is the victim of assault by a client. Gardaí are currently investigating this matter and are following a definite line of enquiry. 

Numerous files are now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions as a result of the investigation, with a view to determining if any criminal prosecution can be initiated.

‘A huge problem’

The action comes after a group of experts at the Council of Europe expressed concern about the number of human trafficking convictions in Ireland in September.

The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings said the number of trafficking victims fell from 103 in 2017 to 44 in 2021.

Detective Superintendent Derek Maguire, of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) – who led the operation – said that while gardai are currently working with similar figures this year, he believes there are more victims in Ireland.

He explained the two days of action predominantly targeted the purchases of sex and carrying out safeguarding checks on people involved in the sex industry, and that those involved in trafficking were predominantly from international gangs.

“We find that the organised crime gangs that we are identifying are trafficking people from their own country. That seems to be the trend, but it is generally transnational and foreign nationals,” he added.

People, mostly women, but also some men and transsexuals, are trafficked from Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia to Ireland.

Det Supt Maguire said that while the problem has always “been bad”, gardai is now recognising the issue more and working closely with partners in the US, Europe and Asian countries.

“It’s becoming more recognised in law enforcement, and indeed, in governments worldwide. It is a huge problem,” he said.

“It’s not that it’s gotten any better or worse. It’s always been there, but we’re starting to recognise it and we’re carrying out more complex investigations now identifying victims.

“I think there’s more victims out there than are being recognised or being identified.

He added: “Sometimes victims don’t know themselves that they’re victims because it may be normal, particularly in labour exploitation.

That’s the message that we try to get out there that if something isn’t right, and your identity documents are being controlled or your finances are being controlled, it’s like you may be a victim of trafficking.

16 Days of Activism

The operation coincides with the launch of a Garda-led text message campaign which is aimed at offering confidential support to those working in the sex trade. 

It has been introduced in support of the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Over 400 messages have already been issued to sex workers this week, and the initiative will continue in the coming days, gardaí have said. 

Speaking today, Detective Chief Superintendent Colm Noonan of the GNPSB said that during this 16 day campaign, An Garda Síochána are committed to cracking down on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.  

He said: “We’re offering the support, reassurance and protection to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

“Our members are absolutely committed to combating that crime. We are here to listen, we’re here to protect and we’re here to prosecute those who perpetrate those crimes,” he added. 

With reporting from PA. 

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