HUNDREDS of people being trafficked for sex on both sides of the Irish Sea are being failed by the police, courts and politicians.
Campaigners against the “evil” trade have called for urgent action from the British and Irish Governments to clamp down on gangs that trade their victims like animals.
It follows testimony from the Immigrant Council of Ireland that women trafficked to Ireland through Britain end up being exploited in the sex industry “without exception”.
“There is not an element of free will when people are being trafficked,” said Nusha Yonkova, an antitrafficking co-ordinator.
“This is an enormous problem. The sex industry is very easily accessible through the internet. Some women believe they are travelling here with a partner who ends up being a pimp. The prostitution business is quite organised and one trafficker is not single-handedly responsible.”
A British Irish Parliamentary Assembly report last month critised authorities who are failing to crack down on the illegal practice.
BIPA chair Lord Alf Dubs estimates that hundreds of people, the majority of whom are women, are being smuggled between Britain and Ireland every year.
Routes between north Wales and Ireland are believed to be among the most popular. The vast majority are women who come to Europe with the promise of a job before being forced into prostitution.
Children accounted for around half of the 48 trafficking victims identified last year. Most had suffered sexual exploitation.
“Trafficking is a form of slavery, it is sometimes a form of forced prostitution, it is a total denial of the human rights of people and it is an appalling and evil trade,” Lord Dubs said.
“Everybody should be on the alert to catch its perpetrators and help victims.”
In 2010 an Irishman was jailed for seven years in Wales for running a cross-border prostitution ring from Cardiff.
He was found guilty of controlling prostitution and money laundering. However there were just 48 successful prosecutions in England in 2011 and two in Scotland.
A series of recommendations come in the report released last month by the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, a body made up of British MPs and Irish TDs, after a year-long consultation.
Among them is a call for police to improve conviction rates for those involved in trafficking, ensuring that they target the kingpins of trafficking and secure lengthy jail terms.
Lord Dubs believes the plight of victims has been “neglected” because people smuggling receives less attention than drugs trafficking.
Among its 35 recommendations, BIPA has called on police forces on both sides of the Irish Sea to work together to toughen up their fight against trafficking by sharing more information and developing new strategies to catch those responsible.
Officers also need to engage with those who are working with victims. Lord Dubs said such action is needed to combat a culture of treating trafficked people like illegal immigrants, which forces them to stay away from the authorities.
The report also says new legal guidelines are required to ensure victims who commit offences in the course of their exploitation are only prosecuted when it is in the public interest.