Trafficking Victims are In Plain Sight


Human Trafficking: Hidden in Plain Sight, a conference organised APT Ireland (Act to Prevent Trafficking) and AMRI, took place at the Department of Justice in Dublin on Friday 1st March.

There were over 120 delegates including staff and sisters of OLA Ireland.

The conference provided a harrowing insight into the dark world of human trafficking that exists right here in Ireland.

Kevin Hyland, OBE, former UK anti-Slavery Commissioner spoke about the prevalence of Human Trafficking in Ireland and the UK and commended the wonderful work done by Catholic Sisters in providing support and practical assistance to victims.

Mr Hyland, clearly very passionate about the subject, has invested much of his career in the fight against trafficking and shared real examples from his work in the field.

Talking about preventing trafficking, he said, “Everyone needs to understand their role.” He went on to relate a story about a child who had been kept captive on a property in a neighbourhood in the UK. He emphasised that the neighbours had been aware of the people on the property and of the child. They never raised any alarm or took any real notice because, “Isn’t this how foreigners live?”

In another example he highlighted the plight of a child labourer in the cobalt mines in the DRC. Cobalt is a crucial element in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries which are used in most consumer electronics. It is also used in the batteries used in Tesla cars.

He suggested that we need to be aware of how our treatment of displaced people and about how the issues of climate change and supply chains factor into human trafficking. He went on to propose that we all think about making some personal changes in these areas.

He highlighted the fact that trafficking is happening in plain sight. He also stressed that traffickers do not always fit the profile we imagine. Traffickers often look like ordinary men and women. They work and live among us.

Sheila Crowley, services manager at Ruhama spoke about the victims of trafficking. She explained that the profile of trafficking victims has also changed.

Efforts to educate the public about the signs of Human Trafficking make the signs more recognisable. Traffickers are aware of this and it has led them to adapt their methods and approach. In the past, victims were stripped of their documents and had no access to cash. They were often kept prisoner. Today, victims may carry some form of identification. They may also be able to move around freely, wire small amounts of money to family members and even get sexual health checks. The traffickers track their victims via cell phones and tracking devices. They use intimidation as a method to control their captives through fear and manipulation. One of the challenges encountered by organisations assisting victims is that some of them do not identify as victims. This has become their reality, they are well coached in what to say. They remain in denial of their circumstance.

Ruhama is a Dublin-based NGO working with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

Other keynote speakers included Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, and JP O’Sullivan of MECPATHS Ireland.

Noeline Blackwell, spoke on the issue of consent. Her core message was, “All sexual activity should be consensual, and given freely and voluntarily.” She was very clear that “non-consensual sexual activity is sexual violence!”

She suggested that when there was doubt around the issue of consent, we should view the situation within the framework of Human Rights. If we do this there is no justification for prostitution or trafficking, as exploitation underpins these activities.

JP O’Sullivan spoke about the work of MECPATHS (Mercy Efforts for Child Protection Against Trafficking with the Hospitality Sector). MECPATHS is an organisation that raises awareness on child trafficking in Ireland by collaborating with the hospitality sector. They provide support and training to hotel management and staff around the issue. He suggested that we have an active duty to raise our voices for those who cannot. Each person can’t do everything, but everyone can do something.

His presentation included the following statistics:

  • 95% of people in Ireland believe that human trafficking happens in poor, lower income countries where there are high levels of poverty.
  • 90% are unaware of their responsibility to report suspected harm of a child to the Garda under the Child First Act (2015).

It is our duty to be informed about what is happening right here on our doorstep. As one of the facilitators said, “Raising awareness and joining the conversation is a response.”


Michelle Robertson, OLA Communications Officer
5 March 2019