Every year, APT (Act to Prevent Trafficking), arranges two public events. The Spring event takes place around the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, 8th February and the Autumn event around European Anti Human Trafficking Day, 18th October. This year, the Spring event was a conference with the title “Hidden in Plain Sight”. APT’s main function is awareness raising and we have found, in our various addresses to groups around the country that there is a great deal of unawareness of the prevalence of human trafficking in Ireland. We hoped to address this in our conference; hence the theme.
The venue chosen was the Atrium in the premises of the Department of Justice and Equality, 51 St Stephen’s Green, where AHTU, (Anti Human Trafficking Unit) is located. The Principal Officer, Mr Paul Gunning, welcomed us and his staff facilitated us in every way they could. The venue was free to us and accommodated 120 people.
We chose our audience very carefully. We included members of other groups working in anti human trafficking. Our special target was boards of management of secondary schools. We were happy with the response and easily filled the venue. Mr Gerard Cullen, Principal of Mount Carmel, King’s Inns Street, took time off to attend.
Our speakers were: Mr Kevin Hyland, appointed by Mrs Teresa May as the first UK Commissioner for Human Trafficking, and now in Ireland coordinating the Santa Marta group. Kevin gave us an overview of human trafficking in a global context, highlighting the ever-changing nature of the trade in human beings. Images of young people working in appalling conditions in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, procuring cobalt for the manufacture of mobile phones, really touched people. We take our mobile phones for granted, not realising that the cobalt which they contain was in some cases, mined in great misery.
Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, spoke about the empowerment of women. From the days when women did not have a vote and required a man’s signature to open a bank account to today, when women are becoming increasingly autonomous, domestic and sexual abuse have been part of life. Today, women are coming forward, speaking out. More and more women are being educated about consent in sexual relationships, and schools are providing programmes on the subject.
Mr JP O’Sullivan of MECPATHS (Mercy Endeavours to Combat Prostitution and Trafficking in the Hospitality Sector) displayed some excellent photographs on his topic, the trafficking and exploitation of children. JP calls us all to be aware of the trafficking of children in Irish hotels and to make sure that we do not give our custom to hotels whose staffs have not been trained and whose management have not signed up to an anti-trafficking protocol.
Ms Sheila Crowley of Ruhama updated us on the work of dealing face-to-face with people who have been trafficked and people who are working in prostitution in Ireland. Sheila described a project in which Ruhama set up a call line with a girl posing as a call girl. Even when the girl later pretended that she was a victim of trafficking, some clients wanted to engage in sex with her. She then revealed that it was all staged and reminded the callers that it was a crime to engage in sex with a trafficked person.
The audience were very impressed by the Transition Year students from St Joseph’s College, Lucan, who described their research project on human trafficking, undertaken as part of the Young Social Innovators Programme. The organisers of the conference felt that the future of anti human trafficking is in safe hands as long as we have students of this calibre and teachers who support and encourage them.
There is a comprehensive account of the conference on the APT website.