A woman who was allegedly trafficked and required to work as a prostitute in rural Ireland has told a jury that she came to Ireland under “the illusion of work”, with the intention to “provide a better future” for herself and her children.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was giving evidence in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial of Natalia Nogueira Da Silva and Ivanilce (Lisa) Vailones Fidelis.
The woman told Paraic Dwyer SC, defending Ms Vailones Fidelis, that she had a “good life” in Brazil and had come to Ireland to save money to open her own business.
“If I said I lived on the streets with my children and was hungry, I’d be lying. I lived in a rented house and I had a dream to stop working for others and work for myself,” she said, adding that she saw a chance to “provide a better future” for herself and her children by coming to Ireland.
Ms Da Silva (32), of Cairn Hill View, Drumlish, Co Longford, has pleaded not guilty to one count of human trafficking a woman at an unknown location within the State, on dates between March 31th, 2019 and May 18th, 2019.
She has pleaded guilty in front of the jury to one count of organising prostitution at an unknown location within the State on dates between December 5th, 2018 and May 18th, 2019.
She has also admitted one count of facilitating the entry into the State of a person she knew to be illegal on March 31st, 2019 at Dublin Airport, along with 33 counts of money laundering the proceeds of crime on dates between March 2020 and May 2021.
Ms Vailones Fidelis (46) of Castle Manor, Racecourse Road, Roscommon, has pleaded not guilty to all 18 counts against her.
She has denied two counts of human trafficking two women at various locations within the State on dates between December 2018 and May 2019. She has pleaded not guilty to one count of organising prostitution during the same time period.
Ms Vailones Fidelis has further pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of money laundering the proceeds of crime on dates between January 2015 and December 2020 and one count of removing proceeds of crime from the State during the same time period.
The State alleges that both accused trafficked two vulnerable Brazilian women for the purposes of exploiting them and taking advantage of their vulnerability “to such an extent as to cause the trafficked person to have no real or acceptable alternative but to submit to being trafficked”.
The first complainant told Mr Dwyer, on Thursday, that she came to Ireland following a “proposal that had no real base”.
“I came under the illusion of work and this is not what I found here,” she said.
Speaking via video-link through an interpreter, the 35-year-old woman said she was told to tell the immigration office at the airport that she was coming to Ireland for holidays, not to work. The woman said she was instructed to say this by Natalia, but didn’t know it was illegal.
Mr Dwyer asked the woman if it was a condition of her residency in Ireland to co-operate with the investigation into her allegations.
The woman said she had been identified by gardaí as a victim of human trafficking, and was offered the choice to assist the investigation or return home.
“When I accepted the proposal to remain in the country and help the investigation, I was sure I should have a permanent visa so I could continue to help,” she said.
The woman said she believed it would be “completely irresponsible and illegal” to remain in the country if her immigration status was illegal. The woman said she was sure arrangements would be made in relation to her immigration status.
The woman disputed Mr Dwyer’s claim that her solicitor had written to the Department of Justice to push for her application for temporary residency to be reviewed quickly. She said this was delayed and her solicitor asked permission to write to immigration services to resolve this.
Mr Dwyer asked the woman about her initial complaint to gardaí, made at Dundalk Garda Station.
She agreed with Mr Dwyer that she originally told gardaí she had jumped from a car to escape, however, this was incorrect. The woman said she was trying to protect the identity of a woman who helped her to escape.
Defence counsel asked the woman if a Spanish woman had suggested she could work for the same agent.
The woman said the Spanish woman saw her “crying in the kitchen” after being threatened by Lisa.
“She asked me why I was crying and shaking, I told her what happened and she told me I had to escape as soon as possible, because if the men arrived and found me there, they would beat or kill me.”
The woman said the Spanish woman offered to put her in touch with her agent, but she chose to go to the garda station instead.
“At that moment, everything was very tense. I was very nervous; we were trying to find a way to which I could leave the situation in which I had been threatened.”
Defence counsel asked the woman why she told gardaí not to follow up an allegation of rape she made about a man whose house she stayed in after she left Portarlington.
The woman said a friend of hers had made arrangements for her to stay in this man’s house, but she could not later recall the man’s address as she was traumatised. She said she also could not contact the friend as she was instructed by gardaí to have no contact with anyone involved in the trial.
Mr Dwyer put it to the woman that this allegation was a “total invention” to improve her position in terms of residency. She strongly denied that.
Mr Dwyer asked the woman why she didn’t tell gardaí that she suggested the name used on the profile on the ‘Escort Ireland’ website during a discussion with Lisa. The woman said she had had a conversation with Lisa about the name when she first arrived in Portarlington, but she hadn’t known the name of the website at that time.
The woman confirmed to Mr Dwyer that she had owned a property in Brazil, but this was sold to pay her mother’s debts. The woman said she was renting before she came to Ireland.
The woman said a friend told her she could come to Ireland, work for three months and earn money. She said her friend put her in touch with someone who could help her come to Ireland. The woman said this was Lisa.
The woman told Mr Dwyer she hadn’t known her friend was involved in sex work in Europe. She said she only had a conversation with her friend by phone about sex work on the night she arrived in Ireland, after she was told by Lisa she would working as a prostitute.
The woman said Lisa gave her more details about working as a prostitute during a call the next day. The trial continues before Judge Patricia Ryan and a jury.