HUMAN TRAFFICKING for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery where women and girls from the world’s poorest regions are coerced and exploited for profit in the more affluent parts of the world – including Ireland. The trafficked women are taken across national borders and forced to engage in prostitution. As a result, they face multiple hazards, including those of arrest, detention and deportation as illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, those who organise and greatly profit from this lucrative criminal trade in humans are rarely charged. To date none has been successfully prosecuted in the courts for trafficking.
Ireland’s record in tackling this area of human rights abuse remains unimpressive. In June, the annual US state department report on human trafficking, which presents a global review of how 170 countries are handling the problem, concluded the Government had failed to meet the minimum standards necessary to eliminate trafficking. The report, while acknowledging Ireland’s performance had improved, found “no evidence that trafficking offenders were prosecuted or convicted during the reporting period”. Gardaí are investigating some 65 cases of suspected human trafficking but for a second year in succession, the report placed Ireland in the second of three performance tiers, indicating a sub-standard performance on this issue.
The state department has advised that Ireland vigorously prosecute trafficking offences. It has suggested also that the Government should ensure trafficking victims are not penalised for unlawful acts – like prostitution – that they have been forced to undertake.
Its recommendation comes as other countries have introduced much stricter laws on prostitution: Norway and Sweden have outlawed the purchase of sexual services from a prostitute, while the UK plans to criminalise payment for sex with a trafficked woman and to make it a strict liability offence. Under proposed legislation, ignorance of her trafficked status would provide no defence in court.
Fine Gael spokesman on immigration and integration Denis Naughten has argued in recent days that prostitution laws here must be reviewed and changed to reflect the much tougher legal provisions applying elsewhere. For the Government, a failure to respond with urgency to this issue will almost certainly ensure that human trafficking for sexual exploitation becomes a greater problem here.