A European anti-trafficking expert warned that the Irish sex trade was already responding to increased demand from men to “identify and have sex with” women and girls who were fleeing the conflict.
Valiant Richey, a special representative from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), told a National Women’s Council event today that around the time that a mass movement of vulnerable Ukrainian women and girls were moving across Europe, there was a “significant spike” in online searches “related to buying sex from Ukrainian women”.
Mr Richey, an anti-trafficking coordinator, said that in some countries search terms relating specifically to having sex with Ukrainian women “went up by 600pc”.
“In other words, one of the early and measurable reactions in Europe to the crisis were attempts by men to identify and have sex with women and girls fleeing the conflict,” Mr Richey said.
“The influx of vulnerable women and girls into Western Europe led to an immediate increase in interest by men in exploiting them.”
He said that the increased demand shown by men to had to have sex with Ukrainian women would serve as a “strong incentive” for human traffickers to trap and exploit the women.
“And indeed, we are already seeing the market responding. For example, one of Ireland’s largest escort websites offered men the opportunity to live out their ‘war-inspired fantasies’ with Ukrainian women,” Mr Richey said.
He added that the same website had reported a 250pc increase in Ukrainian women offering services on its website.
Mr Richey was one of a number of panellists speaking at an online event discussing trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation in the context of the war on Ukraine.
He also warned that people using informal arrangements on social networks to house refugees could also leave women and girls vulnerable to exploitation.
The Red Cross received thousands of offers of accommodation from Irish people as soon as the conflict broke out. However, long delays have meant that some people who offered spare rooms have still not been vetted or had their accommodation inspected.
This has led to some people using large public Facebook groups to offer accommodation to Ukrainians who are already in Ireland and need a place to stay.
Mr Richey said that it was important to “celebrate the tremendous response” from people all over Europe who offered their homes to Ukrainians.
“The challenge, of course, is making sure that people are safe,” he said.
Mr Richey said that the OSCE recommended a formal registration system, where those offering accommodation could be vetted.