Technology fuelling underground sex industry, warns Ruhama

Ireland’s underground sex industry is being fuelled by technology as vulnerable young women are forced to work as prostitutes from apartments, it emerged today.

A leading charity said it is harder to reach victims of the sex trade as pimps and criminals hold them captive in flats and houses all over the country.

Over the last two years 341 vulnerable women who have been forced into prostitution have been supported by Ruhama.

But volunteers believe that number is just the tip of the iceberg, with hundreds more trapped in covert underground operations.

Director of Ruhama, Kathleen Fahy, said 10 years ago prostitution was very visible on the streets of Dublin.

“Today we are dealing with a predominantly indoor and more covert sex trade,” said Ms Fahy.

“Many women involved in prostitution are controlled by criminals. They are beaten, afraid and see no way out.

“These criminals now operate in a hidden world and use modern technology to control and market the women.”

In its biennial report for 2007-2008 Ruhama revealed 100 women it helped were victims of trafficking, the majority from Nigeria.

Six of those were aged under 18 years when they were brought in to Ireland and forced to have sex with men.

Ms Fahy said women were often tricked with promises of legitimate work or college places and then handed over to criminals and cut off from others.

Young girls in HSE care are also being targeted.

Ruhama said more than half of those helped were hidden behind closed doors and advertised on the internet and via mobile phones.

Ms Fahy said this technology is allowing organisers of the sex trade to operate undercover.

“Trafficking is happening all over Ireland,” she continued.

“People are brought in, not just to Dublin but other towns as well, and women are being held in captivity for anything from months up to two years before they are rescued.

“They are given a mobile phone and told they have to have sex with up to 10 or 12 men a day in order to repay debts that have been supposedly incurred on their behalf bringing them into the country.

“Many are operating out of private apartments and have no contact with anybody on the outside.”

While legislation to target traffickers was introduced last year, so far no-one has faced criminal charges.

But Ms Fahy stressed that without demand there would be little need for the lucrative business.

“The domestic market here has grown enormously over the last decade,” she added.

“As long as there are users and willing buyers, there will be people willing to traffic women in to meet demand.”

Ruhama, which this year marks its 20th anniversary, has supported more than 2,000 women, many of whom have ended their link to prostitution.

It runs a range of programmes which include personal development, life skills, counselling, accommodation provision and education.

Ruhama also provides ongoing assistance to victims of sex trafficking including crisis accommodation, befriending, advocacy, accompaniment and repatriation.

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