Colm O'Gorman: Not nearly enough is being done to support victims of human trafficking
THE latest reported incident of the trafficking of women should be a cause for real concern, for many reasons. It raises the questions: how many more women being trafficked to Ireland have we not found, and what is the Government doing about it?
The answer is: not enough.
There has been a lot of progress in the last few years on tackling human trafficking.
In July, Ireland ratified the Council of Europe convention on trafficking.
Two years ago the Human Trafficking Act made trafficking a criminal offence though there has still not been a single conviction under this legislation.
But the biggest gaps are in how we treat victims.
The Government's current plan to combat trafficking is very weak on support for victims of trafficking.
In many cases reported over the past few years, these people have been raped, beaten, or abused in some way. They need legal assistance, counselling and medical care, but it is not clear how this will be done.
The victims of these crimes are generally women, or young girls and boys. They are taken from some of the poorest places in the world and then sold off to be sexually exploited or forced to work as slaves.
Instead of being treated as victims of terrible crimes, when trafficking victims come to the attention of the authorities, they can be treated as criminals or as illegal migrants.
We also need to get a better handle on the size of the problem. Some 26 victims of trafficking were identified in 2009.
But a report last year from the Immigrant Council of Ireland found that over 100 women and girls were trafficked into or through this country for sexual exploitation over two years.
In the past decade, the Ruhama charity group has assisted over 200 victims of sex trafficking and we fear the real numbers might be far higher.
Ireland is not just a destination for traffickers; it is a smuggling route. In 2007 a team of undercover BBC journalists exposed a Bulgarian child smuggler, since arrested by the authorities, who told them the safest way into Britain was through Rosslare.
So it is vital that the Government properly investigates the scale and nature of trafficking in Ireland. Until this happens, much of the problem will remain hidden.
And Ireland is just one part of a trafficking network that stretches across the globe. No country is immune.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 2.4 million people are currently being exploited as victims of human trafficking.
It is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative sources of money for organised crime.
The gardai are already working with other police forces across Europe to smash the smuggling gangs.
This needs to continue and to be supported. But in making every effort to take on the criminals, we must not lose sight of how vital it is to look after the victims.
Colm O'Gorman is Director General of the Irish Branch of Amnesty International