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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
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'One woman didn't even know she was in Ireland': The reality of being sold for sex

Women are trafficked across countries and continents – some having been sold by family members or friends.

YOUNG, ISOLATED AND invisible, trapped in a country where they know no one and do not speak the language – this is the life of a trafficking victim in Ireland.

Between 2009 and 2015 a total of 417 alleged victims of human trafficking were reported to or detected by gardaí.

“The real numbers are probably much greater,” Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said today, as she launched the government’s second action plan to combat human trafficking.

The majority of victims (313) are female, but since 2009, 103 males have been identified as victims of trafficking, and one transgender person. The overwhelming majority report experiencing sexual exploitation.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of women from Eastern Europe,” said Sarah Benson CEO  of Ruhama, an organisation that works with victims of sex trafficking.

She said the women are “heavily controlled by gangs, usually speak little or no English, are very young and isolated”.

Her organisation has helped women with intellectual disabilities who were “misled and abused”, women trafficked across different countries and even continents, and women whose “own family and supposed friends were complicit in selling and trafficking them”.

In recent years, a number of women from Nigeria have made specific reference to the Boko Haram terror group. Having fled capture in their home villages, many were left homeless in areas of the country they were unfamiliar with. This left them vulnerable to sexual exploitation, first in Nigeria, and then in other countries they were moved to.

For those who are very heavily controlled, sometimes they won’t even know where they are, what county they’re in – there was one woman I met recently who didn’t even know she was in Ireland, she thought she was in the UK.


Benson said there have not been many prosecutions for sex trafficking in Ireland relating to the organised sex trade and this is something she hopes to see happening in the future.

In many cases, she said perpetrators are pursued under the Sexual Offences Act 1993 for crimes such as organised prostitution, instead of trafficking, which carries a life sentence.

“Penalties are so far out of date that you have a summary offence as opposed to something that has a really, really strong sanction and so if that legislation is used , even if somebody receives a conviction, they’re not likely to actually really bear a reasonable consequence for what is a very, very serious crime,” she explained.

Launching the action plan today, Minister Fitzgerald committed to a victim-centred approach to what she described as a “heinous crime”.

“Just imagine any one of our children, or nieces or nephews, at a young age in a foreign country, not knowing even what town they’re in and being subjected to this kind of behaviour.”

She said victims could be “forgiven for thinking they were invisible to us” but insisted the government is committed to ending “this despicable trade”.

She urged the public to look for signs and report their suspicions: “Don’t close your eyes to human trafficking.”

Read: Trafficking victims told by ‘The Master’ they would get new life – but were ‘treated like dogs’>

Read: Six people, including teenage girl, arrested in connection with human trafficking in Meath>

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