Ireland’s largest escort website offered men the opportunity to live out their “war-inspired fantasises” with Ukrainian women, a webinar has heard on Thursday.
Escorts Ireland reported a 250 per cent increase in interest for Ukrainian women, Valiant Richey from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said.
Mr Richey, a former US prosecutor, told the webinar organised by the Beyond Exploitation that war could be exploited by human traffickers, and Europe had already seen a rise in online searches relating to buying sex from Ukrainian women.
“In some countries the spike [in online searches for buying sex from Ukrainian women] was as much as 600 per cent... there was an immediate interest in exploiting them,” he said.
A recent operation in Sweden proved this trend is translating into real life, Mr Richey said. Out of 38 buyers who were arrested, 30 of them were attempting to access Ukrainian women specifically.
Mr Richey, the OSCE’s co-ordinator for combatting trafficking in human beings, said the demand for sexual services motivates trafficking. “Too often efforts are only focused on victim identification or the prosecution of traffickers... if we don’t address demand, the problem will never, never stop.”
He called for more awareness campaigns and education within schools. He noted that social media was being used to advertise prostitution and targeted ads on websites explaining the harm of human trafficking could be used to counteract this.
Olena Zaitseva, lawyer at the Centre for Democracy in Kyiv and sexual exploitation expert, said the Irish Government and wider civil society need to understand Ukrainian culture when it comes to gender-based violence.
“Many Ukrainians have a low level of trust in law enforcement agencies, including the police and state bodies... they do not perceive the police as helpers.”
She gave the example of how a friend of hers in Ukraine called the police as she witnessed a domestic violence incident in public. The police told her that only the victim should be calling them and she could face a fine if she tried to intervene like that again.
She also said there was a high level of victim blaming among police, judges and Ukrainian society. “They will ask the victim why they were there, what where they wearing.”
She said it was important that Ukrainian people in Ireland are made to feel comfortable reporting crimes, and there should be a variety of supports available to them.
New arrivals may not know the English language, local laws, or the realities of the sex industry, and they could be vulnerable to exploitation as a result, Ms Zaitseva said.
She said it was also important to protect them from messaging that prostitution is just a “normal job” and a way to make money.
Beyond Exploitation is a civil society campaign on ending sexual exploitation, run by the National Women’s Council, Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
Ukrainian refugees can find information on trafficking at safewomen.com.ua