Women trafficked into sex trade in Ireland are being controlled by voodoo rituals and threats
“It’s all down to superstition and the traffickers are experts at deciding what works best to keep the women under control”
Women trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation are controlled by voodoo rituals and threats to family members, an anti-trafficking expert has claimed.
The 64 confirmed cases of human slavery in Ireland last year included 27 women who were trafficked into Ireland for the purposes of sex work.
Many of these women were from Nigeria and other West African countries – but the numbers of women trafficked into Ireland from Latin America and EU countries is also on the rise.
And traffickers are experts in knowing how best to control and coerce these women, says Dr Nusha Yonkova, Anti-trafficking Expert at the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
For women from West African countries, this control is often shrouded in voodoo rituals and superstition, with trafficking victims told their families will be cursed if they try to escape.
Dr Yonkova said: “These women would be put in a situation of debt bondage but this is not the only way that women are kept under control.
“There are women from Africa, for example, who are subjected to voodoo rituals, where they are made to believe their family members will be hurt if they don’t obey and behave in a certain way.
“So many women would not escape, believing that by doing this they will harm their family members.
“It’s all down to superstition and the traffickers are experts at deciding what works best to keep the women under control.”
The trafficked victims often have low levels of education and are particularly susceptible to the power of superstition.
Dr Yonkova said: “There are ancient rituals linked to ancient religions and superstitions still exist among people with lesser levels of education, and victims of trafficking are almost invariably such.
“No matter where they are from they wouldn’t have the education, they wouldn’t have the knowledge to grasp the situation and to defend themselves or take a decision that leads to safety.”
Women who are trafficked into Ireland from other areas, such as Europe, are controlled and coerced through different threats.
This is taking place as the number of women trafficked from EU countries, including Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia are on the rise.
Dr Yonkova said: “Women from Eastern Europe are being told or threatened that they will be exposed to their small communities as prostitutes or women of low morals.
“Or they are told they will be exposed to their families, which in the case where the family is not participating in the trafficking, and they could be subjected to violence.
“And of course, the ongoing method for keeping women under control would be violence. Violence and coercion is almost compulsory in addition to all the other tricks.”
Human trafficking and exploitation has been highlighted in recent weeks following the devastating discovering of the 39 Vietnamese nationals whose frozen bodies were found in the back of a lorry in Essex in October.
While Ireland has had anti-trafficking legislation in place since 2008, there has yet to be one conviction.
This could in part be down to the requirement in Ireland that women who come forward to authorities must agree to participate in criminal proceedings if they want to access supports available to trafficking victims, according to Dr Yonkova.
She told the Irish Mirror: “We’re particularly concerned about the position the State has taken in implementing the trafficking obligations, to require cooperation with authorities, in exchange for being recognised as a victim of trafficking and grating temporary residence permits.
“The capacity of people to consent and to understand and to commit to this is highly questionable and could be very traumatic for them.
“We have clients, for example, who are unable to cooperate and unwilling because they were fearful about family members and fearful of the traffickers.”
She said the State does not need to make this demand of women, who are already feeling vulnerable and unsure who to trust.
She said: “Women have to give permission, have to give consent to participate in the criminal investigation of the crime that was committed against them.
“They have to cooperate with criminal investigations in order to be granted, for example, temporary residency permit, or to be granted designated measures that support victims of trafficking.
“The State is not obliged to impose this condition, but we have opted to apply this condition. And it is not great. We are really opting for the minimum standards everywhere.”
The UK’s former Anti-Slavery Commissioner told the Irish Mirror in November that the trafficking of human beings “will go on forever” if criminals are not stopped.
Kevin Hyland, OBE, who represents Ireland to the Council of Europe’s Independent Group of Experts for Trafficking, said: “Unless we start to really hit those traffickers, and start to deal with the issue, this is going to go on forever.
“Ireland has got a big role to play at the EU and at the international level – but domestically, it should be able to get on top of this.”
The Department of Justice has said it is working extensively with An Garda Siochana and other organisations to fight human trafficking.
A Justice spokesman told the Irish Mirror: “These are complex cases and it can be challenging to secure convictions in human trafficking cases, for a range of reasons including difficulties in securing sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of coercion or deception of the victim.
“For example, a prosecution the State brought against three suspected traffickers in 2018 was withdrawn, due to the victims choosing to return to their home countries and declining to cooperate with Garda