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African sex slaves forced to work in Irish brothels

Human trafficking is a growing problem in Ireland.

Statements given to police by six girls ages 15 to 21 who were held by the vice ring provide a glimpse of the brutal reality for the young women forced to come to Ireland and work as sex slaves. They typically were singled out in impoverished African villages and enticed to make the journey to Ireland using false passports on the promise of education or jobs.

Some of the prostitutes came from South America and were working willingly for the ring, which was run by Thomas Carroll and his wife Shamiela Clark, a former prostitute from South Africa. Clients in Ireland called a mobile number on the website for an Irish escort service and were directed by Clark to the nearest brothel, usually located in an innocuous-looking house or apartment on short-term lease. Clients were charged 160 euros ($200) for half an hour.

They operated from Castlemartin, a village in Wales, in the United Kingdom, where they thought they would be beyond the reach of the Irish police. But Carroll was arrested by U.K. police in December 2008 under a European warrant. He was making the equivalent of $1 million a year and had properties in five countries. In February, Carroll was sentenced to seven years in prison and Clark was given three and a half years.

According to Mark Phillips of the U.K. Serious Organized Crime Agency, “the first these girls knew they were going into a life of prostitution is when they were brought items of clothing, dropped off to a flat and got a phone call to say expect a male customer and do what you are told.”

Evidence given in court showed the women were often terrified of breaking a “juju” oath they were forced to take by witch doctors in their native villages, and were also being forced to pay back their travel costs, as much as $75,000.

Carroll's operation was not an isolated case. Earlier this month Mark McCormick of Newcastle, County Down, was sentenced to 36 months in prison for running six brothels in Dublin. Such cases are common now and more often than not involve the modern equivalent of African slaves.

Until two years ago there was no law in Ireland against trafficking. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, was enacted in 2008, but has yet to result in a successful prosecution. Trafficked women are nervous about going to the police. Without documents they can be detained in prison for violating immigration laws, and then deported back into the arms of the gangs that sent them to Ireland in the first place.