The revelation is one of many grim observations made in an internal health service paper concentrating on prostitution in the Londonderry area.
The report also finds that despite “anecdotal evidence of brothels in operation in Londonderry and Omagh and stories of girls wanting a change of scene and coming down from Belfast using local hotels” health officials have found it “extremely difficult to provide a service to commercial sex workers.”
Equally, since the departure of a single PSNI officer who had set up an initiative to address the issue “no one has taken this work forward in the Derry area.”
The shocking revelations are contained in a 22-page ‘Commercial Sex Workers’ paper for the Western Sexual Health Strategy Steering Group, which despite having been published back in late 2008 is the only Londonderry specific document on prostitution and sexual health available to local health officials.
The report says: “It was very difficult to access information about commercial sex workers in the Western Trust area. There appears to be anecdotal evidence of brothels in operation in Derry and Omagh and stories of girls wanting a change of scene and coming down from Belfast using local hotels, advertising their services on the internet and certain Northern Ireland newspapers.”
But the anecdotal nature of the evidence makes it difficult to provide a specific health service for local sex workers.
“Without actually knowing the scale of the incidence of prostitution and where it takes place and what their needs are, it is extremely difficult to provide a service to commercial sex workers,” its authors state.
The report - the contents of which are disclosed to the public in the Sentinel for the first time today - outlines the grim reality of sexual exploitation on Londonderry’s streets and in its brothels.
It provides “the example of a 16-year-old old girl who could not pay off a drug debt and started to work as a prostitute from a house to pay off her debt. Her pimp was a 19-year old female.”
This incident was apparently linked to paramilitaries and the location was not identified but the paper is clear that homeless women are also being exploited in Londonderry.
“Other issues highlighted were with homeless females in Derry having sex with men at a price whether it be, for alcohol/drugs/companionship/a roof over their head/protection or money.
“This group of individuals mentioned according to project workers would never admit that this is the case but over the years working with these women it was obvious to staff that this was a harsh reality.
“These women change partners frequently indulging in behaviours that help them survive or feed their addiction,” the report shows.
With growing reports of prostitution in the Londonderry area one local PSNI officer did try to tackle the problem in 2008 but after he moved on an apparent vacuum was created.
“A few years ago because of incidence of commercial sex work in Derry a PSNI officer with an interest in this work had tried to set up an initiative to address this issue but he has moved on now and no one has taken this work forward in the Derry area,” the report said.
The paper recommended creating links with staff from the Haven and Foyle Valley House and offering a sexual health programme with support from family planning staff/Gum clinic staff/the health promotion officer for Sexual Health and possibly Women’s Aid to deliver a programme on sexual health and relationships.
Although the report dates back to 2008 it has not been superseded by any further paper on commercial sex workers in the last three or four years.
However, the Donegal Women’s Network (DWN) has worked with the Garda Síochána on tackling the problem and addressed an event in Letterkenny about an initiative called ‘Operation Quest.’
‘Quest’ is an ongoing operation continually targeting individuals and criminal groups involved in the criminal aspects of the sex industry. DWN also talked about a website called Escort Ireland. Both Women’s Aid in Pump Street and the PSNI have also addressed the problem.
Various organisations told the authors their clients could be vulnerable to sexual exploitation but that they did not have any concrete evidence that it was actually taking place.
It went on to highlight two Barnardos reports ‘Whose daughter next?’ (1998) and ‘No Son of Mine’ (2001).
The former found a pattern of control exerted by abusing adults involving ensnaring, creating dependency, taking control and total dominance.
The latter quoted a 14-year-old rent boy abused through prostitution: “Thousands of things have happened to get me here-mum leaving, no-one at home, hanging around the pub late and waiting to go home with dad, having blokes try to touch us up, seeing boys do tricks and getting cash for fags.
“If you want to change me, you’re probably going to have to do thousands of things too, to balance it out.”
The paper also refers to an ongoing ‘Children and Young People Missing from Care’ project funded by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and its finding that children in NI care homes are being targeted for sexual exploitation.
“In a lot of cases children’s homes are targeted and older men befriend younger teenagers by giving them lifts in their cars and buying them gifts or alcohol/drugs.
“The girls are then taken to party houses where there will be older men. On a recent occasion when the police were called to remove a girl from a house it was discovered that there were about 12 young teenage girls with men in their twenties and thirties,” the report says.
Today’s revelations follow our disclosure two weeks ago that police believe Triads have been forcing women into sex slavery in Londonderry under threat of extreme violence.
A Department of Justice (DOJ) vice report published last year says the women were tricked into coming to Northern Ireland to “carry out cleaning and nannying jobs but were forced into prostitution through extreme violence” by Triad gangs in Londonderry and Belfast.
Local women are also being forced into prostitution by unscrupulous people and moved from one town to another to work in brothels, according to an in-depth Department of Justice report. Although the report was completed last year, press coverage then concentrated only on the details of the press release issued by the department.