The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) celebrated its ten year anniversary this weekend. Over the past ten years the ICI has worked with migrants and their families providing legal support and advocating for change in Government policy and legislation. Many of the migrants coming to Ireland are women. With the feminization of migration, services such as the ICI have become increasingly aware that young migrant women are suffering from issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking, leaving them excluded and on the margins of society.
As a young Irish woman myself I did not think something as horrific as human trafficking was happening in my city before I worked with the Immigrant Council and saw the devastating effects this exploitative industry was having on young women, some as young as thirteen and fourteen. As an avid feminist, I believe that all forms of gender inequality and violence should be eradicated. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, an intolerable form of violence against women and a prime example of gender inequality at its worst.
So how does human trafficking happen? Traffickers who recruit women in the countries of origin are primarily people known to them - they recruit these women through deception, force and coercion praying on their vulnerability. People, especially young girls become susceptible to human trafficking for reasons such as extreme poverty, family dislocation, war and conflicts and childhood abuse. Traffickers exploit their situation of poverty, isolation and fear and bind them to their sickening business, pretending to be their friends and saviours.
Once in Ireland trafficked women are being handed over to Irish pimps, and end up in indoor prostitution to be sold to Irish clients – over and over again, for the profit of the agents. Women who are trafficked are subjected to horrendous violence, including rape and gang-rape. Violence is used to break their resistance and their willingness to escape. It is through violence that traffickers keep women under control.
The research report “Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland” published by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) in 2009 exposed the fact that Ireland has a substantial - and apparently resilient - sex industry that does not show signs of decline during the present economic crisis. The reason for this may be related to the fact that the sex industry has already spread to every corner of the country posing the danger to become accepted in people’s minds as a normal feature of everyday life, that it is an inevitable evil or the ‘oldest profession’ in the book.
Prices of the so called ‘escort’ services are high, and women are available to be ordered online or by mobile phone. They are for sale in hotels and privately rented apartments with the overwhelming majority of women in indoor prostitution being migrants, up to 97%. They could be ordered by forms outlining their physical and ethnic attributes and delivered to clients’ homes. Agencies often move women from town to town to create ‘variety’ for clients, while another, maybe more important reason is to keep migrant women disoriented and with a total lack of links to friends and communities.
One woman interviewed by the ICI research team described her experience of prostitution stating:
“I feel like nothing. I feel dirty. I feel confused and upset all the time. I want to get out of this work. I want a normal life. I am tired of all the lies… lies, lies, lies to everyone, to my family, my friends in Brazil. How could I go back? What would I say I had been doing? I do not want to lie but how can I tell the truth. I have lived inside this world, this universe and the normal world outside is lost to me. I feel I have no future”
That brings us to an important question, who are these men buying vulnerable women? There is not any special or separate clientele for trafficked people. Men who buy sex, buy everybody who is on offer - trafficked, not trafficked, women, boys and girls. They are well earning people, often in a relationship or married. The 2009 ICI report dispels another myth about prostitution, this time in relation to buyers. As opposed to being lonely or sexually inhibited, buyers actually tend to be successful professionals who watch porn excessively and have multiple sexual partners. These men are totally protected under the Irish law, at present. While women in prostitution could be convicted for brothel keeping, living off earnings from prostitution, men who buy sex indoors are not liable for any offence.
Those who say prostitution is a job would find it hard to justify the tremendous physical and emotional damage women in prostitution suffer. International research shows that mortality in prostitution is 10 times higher than that of the general female population. Other reports exploring the emotional trauma sustained by women in prostitution speak of post traumatic stress disorder that appears at the same rate as it appears among soldiers who have participated in combat. What’s more, women are living in constant fear from violence from procurers and buyers. We should never forget that 9 out of 10 women want to exit prostitution because they find it unbearable (Home Office, Paying the price, 2004).
In order to protect vulnerable women and to break away from our stereotypes in relation to prostitution, a group of Irish organisations and unions came together and launched a campaign called the Turn off the Red Light: End Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in Ireland, of which the Irish Feminist Network is an important campaign member. The campaigners recognise the practical advantages of the Nordic model of prostitution regulation that has a two-fold approach. Those who sell sex are decriminalised in recognition of their subordinate status and limited life-choice, while those who buy sex are penalised as a result of the unacceptable choice they have made when purchasing vulnerable people.
We would like to urge the legislators to act by amending the outdated law from 1993 that criminalises everybody but buyers in Ireland. A change in legislation would lead to a decrease of prostitution and sex trafficking as the sex industry would be dramatically reduced and criminal organisers would be less interested in operating on the territory of the State which has such laws. Most importantly, we would have the real potential to raise new generations of young people who believe that prostitution is incompatible with human dignity and gender equality. Presently, the Irish Minister for Justice has launched a consultation process on the criminalization of the buyers of sex in Ireland.
In celebrating the Immigrant Council’s tenth birthday we hope that you will support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, together with the Irish Feminist Network we invite all supporters to mobilize and to follow the proposed actions on the campaign website and facebook page, so that we get our voice heard.
To support the Turn off the Red Light Campaign please visit our website www.turnofftheredlight.ie and share our Facebook page www.facebook.com/turnofftheredlight
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