Rape Crisis Network Ireland has warned against complacency as crimes such as organised prostitution, human trafficking, brothel-keeping, and other related sexual violence against women are happening in communities, both rural and urban, throughout the country.
Speaking to the Advertiser in the wake of the biggest crackdown on prostitution in Ireland, spokesperson for the Galway-based group, Clíona Saidléar, commended the Garda Síochána for its collaboration with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI ) in carrying out the raids of more than 140 suspected brothels and “seriously responding” to this crime - some 120 of the raids were located in the Republic with at least one understood to be in Galway. Ms Saidléar further called for the justice system to continue to target the real perpetrators of this crime and to treat the female victims in a “supportive and sympathetic manner”.
The raids were part of Operation Quest, a co-ordinated operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, and took place across both jurisdictions on Tuesday last. The operation commenced at midday and continued into the evening resulting in more than 140 premises being raided. These premises included mainly apartments, flats, and houses, and are believed to have been located in many counties in the Republic including Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Donegal, and Meath; Gardai have not yet released further specifics relating to this while the investigation is on-going.
However, a Garda statement did reveal that Operation Quest focused “on securing convictions against individuals involved in organising prostitution, brothel keeping, and associated offences including money laundering”. The operation involved more than 200 gardai and was spearheaded by members of the Organised Crime Unit based at the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, supported by officers from all Garda regions. It is understood that a total of eight people were arrested in the joint operation. In the Republic three people were arrested, a man aged in his 40s and a woman aged in her 20s, and both were detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 at Dundrum Garda Station, while another woman in her 20s was detained at Store Street Garda Station under the same act. A large amount of documentation, cash, mobile phones, and computers were seized during the raids.
The Garda statement went on to read: “During the investigation to date it has been established that prostitution is organised on a cross-border basis and today’s [Tuesday] joint operation was specifically aimed at individuals and groups intent on making profits from vulnerable members of society across the island of Ireland. The policy of An Garda Síochána is to treat women involved as witnesses/victims unless significant evidence comes to light suggesting direct involvement in organised prostitution or brothel keeping. Specific training has been provided to gardai investigating this type of crime who continue to liaise closely with various support groups working in this area.”
Ms Saidlear said that it was vital that the gardai continue to “target the right people” and that a change in law was needed to ensure that women, who are the victims of organised prostitution and human trafficking, “are not criminalised and penalised”. She added that there also needs to be a change in the element of our society and culture that “makes it OK for these women to be treated in this way”, and stressed that there are supports, alternatives, and options made available by Rape Crisis centres to victims.