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New app puts sex workers on guard

SEX workers will be able to report anonymously potentially violent individuals to other workers with a new mobile phone app.

The Ugly Mugs smart phone system, launched yesterday, creates a database of people who could pose a risk to sex workers.

The technology allows a sex worker who has encountered a dangerous person to report the incident and issue a warning to other sex workers.

The system then automatically screens incoming and outgoing calls, text messages and alerts from individuals listed on the database to workers in the sex trade.

The system has been set up in association with the controversial Escort Ireland website.

A spokeswoman for Ugly Mugs said the app was an extension of the Ugly Mugs website launched by Escort Ireland four years ago. She said that it was a not-for-profit app.

"You won't have to pay for the service, but you will have to prove that you work as an escort," she said. Users of the app will be contacted and asked to provide evidence of their work, such as an advertisement, she added.

A spokeswoman for Ruhama, which deals with women affected by prostitution and human trafficking, said it supported the idea of an app to warn women about possible danger.

However she said it had concerns about Escort Ireland, which had a "huge vested financial interest" in the sex trade.

Warning

She said the website had advertised trafficked women, an allegation denied by the website. However the app's spokeswoman admitted it "could happen", as it could happen to any organisation that sells advertising space.

"Escort Ireland co-operates fully with the gardai," she said.

Details of who has issued a warning will be kept by the company behind the app, but the warning itself will be published anonymously, she said.

hnews@herald.ie