3 June 2016
When Catherine McAuley was a young woman in the Callaghan household in Coolock, she encountered a servant girl who came to her desperate for help. This girl worked for a local family, a male member of which was intimidating her with sexual advances. She felt frightened and helpless, worried that she wouldn’t be able to keep him at bay for long. She had nowhere else to turn, nobody to protect her. Catherine was determined to help this girl, and many others like her; young women who were at the mercy of their employers, all too often sexually abused by these men who controlled their lives. This was part of the inspiration that led her to build the House of Mercy on Baggot Street.
It was fitting then that on Tuesday, May 31st, MECPATHS (Mercy Efforts to Counter Child Prostitution and Trafficking in the Hospitality Sector) hosted an important event in that very house, what is now the Mercy International Centre, to examine ways to combat the sexual exploitation of children. Facilitated by Debbie Beadle from ECPAT UK, this training day focused on child sex trafficking in Ireland.
ECPAT UK is one branch of an international organisation working to end the sexual exploitation of children in the sex trade. They regularly provide training to a range of state agencies and childcare practitioners across the UK, and are leading advocates of policy reform for the protection of children from trafficking and slavery. It was a very valuable opportunity for the MECPATHS team to learn from their expertise. Informed by their extensive work with survivors of child trafficking, ECPAT designed a comprehensive and insightful training programme examining the complex nature of this crime. Identifying victims of child trafficking - and the challenges this process presents - was particularly emphasised.
The full-day event also offered an important opportunity to share information and knowledge with other agencies and NGOs working on this issue. Representatives from An Garda Siochana (the police), the state child and family agency, and other Irish NGOs participated in the training and contributed to the rich discussion. It is crucially important that different kinds of organisations come together to share their experiences. Every group has a unique perspective and it is vital that we learn from each other. The protocols and procedures currently in place to deal with the crime of trafficking – from preventative measures, to rescuing and protecting victims, to the criminal justice process – need to be monitored and evaluated; the criminals behind this exploitation are constantly innovating to avoid detection, and we must evolve in our turn. That’s why building strong, collaborative networks and sharing our knowledge and expertise is so important.
This training is an important step in the development of our campaign as all of our members are now certified by ECPAT UK. The benefits of this experience will no doubt stand to us as we continue our awareness-raising efforts with hotels across Ireland. In working to end the trafficking of children for sex, we are pursuing Catherine’s mission to protect those young people who are frightened and helpless, trapped by the traffickers and buyers who control their lives.
By Ruth Kilcullen
Campaign Manager of Mecpaths