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Organised Crime

Trafficked sex workers are being forced to pay over €5,000 a month to crime gangs

Detectives are investigating a number of property owners who are providing apartments to organised crime groups.

SOME TRAFFICKED SEX workers are being forced to pay €1,000 per week for use of apartments in Irish towns, cities and villages – often on top of a €1,000 monthly fee. 

It is understood that garda detectives are investigating a number of Irish property owners who are providing apartments to organised crime groups across Ireland.

The Journal has learned that gardaí, particularly investigators with divisional Protective Service Units, have discovered a clear relationship between some landlords and international criminal gangs involved in exploitation of migrants.

Sources with a knowledge of the investigations said that gardaí have identified several apartments, across all Irish regions, which have been used as brothels by gangs. 

The brothels used by these gangs are staffed almost exclusively by a transient workforce of sex workers trafficked into Ireland. 

The sources said that investigations have identified an issue whereby Irish business people, who are otherwise legitimate business people, are acting as “facilitators” by allowing their apartments be sublet by figures associated with these gangs. 

Gardaí believe that while many of these landlords are fully aware of what their properties are being used for, some have no knowledge. 

A security source said that apartments are generally rented for €1,000 per month while the women, staffing the brothels, are charged €1,000 per week to use the facility.

In some cases the crime gang will pay the initial €1,000 and then charge the women €1,000 per week. In other cases the woman may be forced to pay the entire €5,000.

International crime

Garda investigations have determined, over a number of years, that there was a predominance of Romanian and Albanian organised crime groups involved in the industry. Chinese, Hungarian, Brazilian and trafficking gangs from Eastern Europe have also established a foothold in recent years. 

Generally the sex trafficking victims arrive into the country and spend a number of weeks in a particular location before being moved on. Some women have being identified as working in various locations across Ireland before being moved to other European cities. 

Violence and sexual assaults by gangs are a regular occurrence, sources have said. Generally the women do not make formal statements, fearing retribution if they co-operate with law enforcement. 

Sources said that the money trail is now more solid in their investigations and is proving that every corner of the country is affected, not just the large urban areas. 

“In the past, this would’ve been a cash-only trade. But the criminals now see the benefit of apps being used – they can track their money better.

“There was also a big change and a more organised basis to the business over the Covid-19 period. 

“Gardaí have found cases where a single sex worker would have been making around €5,000 for two weeks’ work but she gets a tiny fraction of that and it is all controlled by the gang leaders,” a source explained. 

One garda source said a key issue being faced by investigators is the workload of specialist protective services units investigating the actions of these gangs – they are also swamped with large amounts of sexual crime files. 

‘Hidden pandemic’

Ruhama is a non-governmental organisation advocacy group working with trafficked sex workers in Ireland.  

In a statement Barbara Condon CEO of Ruhama described human trafficking as a “hidden pandemic” and echoed security source comments that it is not just a specific problem for large urban areas. 

“In 2022, Ruhama engaged with almost 500 service users, mostly women of which 88% were migrants. 147 were victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

“It is difficult to ascertain the true number of people trafficked in Ireland as the current system makes it incredibly difficult to identify victims of human trafficking.

“It is estimated the numbers are much higher than official statistics. It is very hidden, victims are moved from county to county staying in rental rooms for short periods of time, evading detection,” she said. 

Condon said that their investigations have found that “the vast majority” of the Irish sex trade is controlled by organised crime while demand is driving the sector to be a profitable business for criminals. 

Policing

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána sent a lengthy statement detailing recent developments and pointed to a successful countrywide operation that had taken place in November 2022.

On that occasion, the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB,) with the support of divisional Protective Services Units and local detectives, launched a targeted campaign in a day of action.

The spokesperson said it was an intelligence-led, targeted series of operations to protect those in the sex trade, across 16 Garda Divisions in all four provinces.

Gardaí identified 46 people as having allegedly purchased sexual services from what they said was “an individual involved in prostitution”.

Of those 46 people, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has cleared the way for 10 suspects to be prosecuted.

During the operation, 112 sex workers were offered welfare advice and encouraged to avail of expert services.

Five search warrants were executed in relation to the organisation of prostitution – €3,000 euro and $500 was seized from a man in the South Eastern Region who is suspected of being involved in organised prostitution.

There were also approaches from sex workers to gardaí identifying so-called ‘pimps’, assaultive incidents and sex trafficking victims.

The gardaí on a national level run an Organised Prostitution Investigation Unit (OPIU) which they said regularly carries out safeguarding checks of people who are involved in the sex trade.

“This is especially important so that Gardaí can identify anyone who may be vulnerable or who is being sexually exploited or trafficked. The OPIU is also cognisant of those who are working independently in the sex trade,” the spokesperson said. 

Gardaí have also participated in a United Nations initiative against gender based violence during which text messages were sent to sex workers offering confidential support.

“An Garda Síochána hopes to reassure any person involved in the sex trade that An Garda Síochána is here to listen, and will treat any report of a crime against them very seriously and sensitively – whether it is assault, theft or criminality of other kind,” the garda spokesperson said. 

A spokesperson for the Immigrant Council of Ireland was unavailable for comment. 

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