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Dying in silence: The hidden world of women trafficked into the sex industry in Ireland

May 15, 2013 for Metro Èireann

The problem of human trafficking is again coming into the public eye, as a result of the recent case against alleged trafficker Trust Egharevba, a Dublin-based Nigerian woman. But it is not a recent phenomenon. A study by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) reports that over a 21-month period from 2007 to 2008, 166 women and girls in Ireland were considered victims of trafficking. Of these, at least 11 were children at the time they were trafficked.

The problem of human trafficking is again coming into the public eye, as a result of the recent case against alleged trafficker Trust Egharevba, a Dublin-based Nigerian woman.

But it is not a recent phenomenon. A study by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) reports that over a 21-month period from 2007 to 2008, 166 women and girls in Ireland were considered victims of trafficking. Of these, at least 11 were children at the time they were trafficked.

Human trafficking, predominantly for the sex industry, is the third most lucrative illegal business in the world, only behind arms and drug trafficking. Women around the world are lured away from their homes with the promise of a better life, often by family members or friends. In almost all cases, the victims are coerced into thinking things will be better and brighter abroad, until they arrive at their destination, where their papers are taken away and they are told they owe a ‘debt’ that must be paid back through prostitution. If they refuse, the women are beaten and sometimes raped until they accept the terms of their ‘employment’.

Finding exact figures on those involved is exceedingly difficult as often the only reports of trafficking come from those who are caught or have escaped their traffickers. Many more are trafficked into Ireland without the authorities ever knowing about it.

Cois Tine – an organisation based in Cork charged with helping asylum seekers, refugees and those trafficked into Ireland – has called on the Government to find a “balance between prosecuting traffickers and protecting victims” of sex trafficking.

Last year the group submitted to the Government consultation in an attempt to get the laws on prostitution changed, hopefully decreasing the number of women trafficked into Ireland for the sex industry.

At any given time in Ireland, an estimated minimum of 1,000 women are involved in indoor prostitution – meaning sex work taking place inside an apartment, house or brothel. It is also reported that there are 51 nationalities of women involved in indoor prostitution.

Studies across Europe show that migrant women engaged in the sex industry come from regions where women lack sustainable employment, where there is pervasive inequality between men and women and where the devastation of war and other conflicts remain unresolved.

Moldova, Ukraine and Lithuania are known for trafficking women. Turkey is also seen as one of the largest markets for women trafficked from nearby former Soviet states. The US State Department estimates that every year 100,000 people are trafficked from the former Soviet Union, 100,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 75,000 from Eastern Europe and 50,000 from Africa.

Life for many of these women is severely degrading. A single prostitute may be forced into having sex with as many as 10 men per day, often seven days a week. This can mean that a trafficked woman is forced to have sex 2,000 times every year, sometimes without the protection of a condom – the use of which is usually determined by the customer, which in turn puts trafficked women at constant risk of contracting HIV or other sexually-transmitted diseases, not to mention pregnancy, which often results in ‘backstreet abortions’.

And these are only the physical risks. The psychological trauma and mental health difficulties that these women must endure is hard to contemplate.

The ICI estimates that the illegal prostitution industry is worth an estimated €180m a year in Ireland alone. Ruhama, an organisation dedicated to helping women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation, estimates that trafficked women can earn around €150 for a half-hour of sex and €250 for a full hour. Of course, this money rarely if ever gets to the women as it automatically goes to the traffickers to repay their ‘debt’.

One woman known to Ruhama described her experience as a woman who was trafficked for sex, saying she “became useless, meaningless, helpless and hopeless. No person to speak to, my world was turned upside down, no freedom – it was like hell. I was dying in silence.”

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