Prostitutes forced to take more risks, says charity


THE DEMAND for prostitutes has not decreased during the recession but male punters are forcing sex workers to take bigger risks to earn money, said Ruhama, the charity for women affected by prostitution.

Prostitutes working both on the streets and in brothels are being forced to engage with men who refuse to wear condoms and are being subjected to more physical and emotional abuse, according to the charity’s chief executive Sarah Benson.

Speaking following the publication of Ruhama’s annual report, Ms Benson said: “Women in 2009 reported horrific levels of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The reporting of rape and sexual assault was almost universal.

“Women reported having been punched in the face, the stomach, being kicked down stairs, beaten for refusing to have sex with men, being locked in and refused food, being burned, being bitten.”

Ruhama saw its caseload increase by 20 per cent last year. The charity, which provides counselling, accommodation, education and outreach services, engaged with 196 women, of which 66 were believed to be victims of trafficking.

Two of those it assisted were children when trafficked to Ireland, with one girl aged just 15 when she was first brought here.

Almost half of 26 women trafficked into the State last year were from Nigeria, and Ruhama said most were in their 20s and located in the Dublin region. Others came from Romania, Kenya, Somalia and Slovakia.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland estimates there are at least 1,000 women working in prostitution in Ireland at any given time, and Ms Benson said this figure was probably just the tip of the iceberg.

She said legislation in the area of prostitution needed to catch up as many of those running brothels and trafficking women were able to keep their distance by monitoring operations using webcams.

Ms Benson also called for a clamp down on those found to be buying sex and said these people should named and shamed.

Beatrise, a woman who engaged with Ruhama last year, said she came to Ireland having been promised work as a nanny. However, she was forced into the sex trade as soon as she arrived by the man who had brought her here from Latvia.

“[He] said I had to pay back all the money I owed for my transport here. I spoke hardly any English and didn’t even really know where I was – I felt so sick and trapped.”

Despite an increase in demand for its services, Ruhama’s statutory funding was cut by around 20 per cent last year.

“We want to be able to continue to support these women . . . but we are seriously restricted by the funding available to us. We ask people out there who may wish to help to visit our website and make a contribution,” said Ruhama chairman Diarmaid Ó Corrbuí.