State urged to pay compensation to trafficking victims

 

VICTIMS OF human trafficking should be able to obtain compensation from the State in cases where their traffickers cannot be found and made liable, a conference on the subject has been told.

Hilkka Becker, a solicitor with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, called for a quick and streamlined “avenue”, with an independent appeals mechanism, to compensate trafficking victims for the trauma they had suffered.

In cases where the trafficker could not be found, there was an obligation on the State to provide compensation, she told the conference organised by Act to Prevent Trafficking (APT).

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board offered a “theoretical possibility” for claiming such compensation, but only for out of pocket expenses and not pain and suffering, Ms Bekker said.

It was also possible to sue under employment law but in the case of victims of sexual exploitation, the State was unlikely to recognise the form of the exploitation suffered under the legislation. She said the council was seriously concerned victims of trafficking often did not seem to get the breathing space to allow them to recover, escape the influence of the traffickers and make an “informed decision” on whether to co-operate with gardaí.

The State should ensure permission to remain here was not dependant on whether a victim was prepared to co-operate in a prosecution of traffickers.

Kathleen Fahy, director of Ruhama, an organisation working with women in prostitution, warned against “jumping to conclusions” that women were lying about their experiences to get Irish residency. Ruhama’s experience was that none of the victims it helped was making up stories.

Éimear Burke, a psychologist who has counselled trafficking victims, criticised the “adversarial and essentially non-believing” attitude of immigration officials dealing with trafficked women.

“Unfortunately in this country there is a culture of not believing or acknowledging the stories of those who have been abused or traumatised. It took the recent Ryan report to knock us out of our complacency, and there still is a considerable amount of denial about it.”

According to Ms Burke, the treatment of some victims by the Irish authorities served to prolong their psychological distress.

Being moved around the country repeatedly, and the very long asylum-seeking process, prolonged the women’s sense of insecurity.

Stellan Hermansson, a Swede living in Ireland who campaigned successfully in his home country to have the buying of sex criminalised, said prostitution was the product of a patriarchal and oppressive class-based society.

Poverty was the main reason why women were trafficked for sexual exploitation but the problem lay not with the prostitute or the trafficker but with men buying sex.

Since Sweden banned the purchase of sex 10 years ago, trafficking cases had fallen to less than 400 a year, and Norway and Iceland had passed similar laws.

In Finland, where sex can still be bought, there were 15,000 such cases each year.