The pandemic did little to dampen demand for prostitutes with 136 woman saying they had been trafficked into the country and forced to sell sex.
The latest report from Ruhama, an organisation which helps people caught-up in the seedy industry, makes for grim reading.
A single mother from a Latin American told how she was lured to Ireland with the promise of job only to find herself left with no option but to work as a prostitute.
Told she had to pay back a debt, she found herself under a sinister regime of surveillance and while she never saw the woman who lured her to Ireland or anyone else, “I was controlled.”
“I was under surveillance, and it was frightening. It made me anxious. I think the phone might have been tracked. Someone knew if I was out and for how long.
"Someone was always constantly calling, always checking up.”
Despite feeling “utterly betrayed and unbelievably sad” she tried to persuade herself that she might earn enough money to realise her dream of owning her own hair salon.
“And so began the other life.
"The life as the woman advertised online as Marina Luz. It was the life of a woman doing prostitution, in a foreign country, with almost no English. Going through the motions, doing things the other me would never do.”
“Some weeks after I started working for [the woman], I realised how little money I was actually able to keep.”
“I had to pay €700 every week for the rent; I had to hand over 50pc of the money I got from clients.”
“Then there was the cost of the ad for the website, taxis, and food. I also had to pay back the debt I owed.”
She feared her pimp’s partner had connections to a drugs cartel and there would be consequences for her if she left the country.
After being assaulted by a client who tried to steal her money, she realised she had to get out of the situation while her pimp was only concerned about her getting back to work.
“I realised that to [the pimp] I was nothing, less than nothing.”
Eventually she made the decision to walk away and into a garda station: “That day was the start of the rest of my life.”
A Romanian woman, who grew up in an orphanage, tells how her new boyfriend said he could get her a well-paid job as a cleaner in Ireland.
Instead, she was persuaded into prostitution when no job materialised after arriving in Ireland.
“I felt tricked, cheated I had no one else especially in this country where I knew no one. So, I started to do prostitution.”
Having left her young daughter behind in Romania with her boyfriend’s mother she found herself vulnerable to threats of violence.
"So, he wanted me to work more. I refused. But he got violent, verbally and physically. So, I worked more. But he took more as well, I was left with almost nothing just to buy the basics to live.”
Her boyfriend controls her constantly phoning to check on her whereabouts and takes her phone away at night “So, I am still here.”
They are constantly on the move, she said: “I would wake up and he would tell me to pack up and be ready quickly. I was never sure where I was or where I was going next.”
“If I do anything wrong, he threatens to beat me. Even worse, he says that he will tell his mother to bring my daughter to the orphanage and leave her there. That she would be better off without me; that I am a bad mother. That terrifies me.”
According to Ruhama, the organisation that fights sexual exploitation, prostitution, and human trafficking, despite the pandemic last year, the demand for sexual services persisted, creating massive threats to vulnerable women.
In its annual report released today, the organisation spoke to 369 women over the year of which 136 were victims of sex-trafficking.
Chair Ian Carter stated in the report that alerting those likely to encounter trafficked victims was key to intervening in such exploitation.
“Training on prostitution and sex trafficking reached 600 participants in 2021, providing them with the tools to identify and signpost potential victims of sexual exploitation.”
Launching the annual report today Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee said the report showed that “despite public health restrictions, vulnerable women continued to find themselves in danger due to sexual exploitation and prostitution.”
“These figures are stark, and each individual case must give us pause for thought given that it is generally recognised that prostitution is inherently exploitative of vulnerable people, especially women and girls.”