Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A room with a view

Operation Freewheel may have been deemed a success but prostitution is still alive and well in Limerick City..

In November of last year an undercover Garda prostitution sting resulted in the arrest of 21 men. The men, from Limerick, Tipperary and Clare, were charged with solicitation and await hearing later this year. The sting, which saw female Garda pose as street hookers, was deemed a success by local police and further operations have been promised. But what impact has ‘Operation Freewheel’ had on the Limerick city prostitution game? Has targeting the clientele rather than the prostitutes made potential customers think twice before soliciting what, on first glance, appear to be ladies of the night?

Living in a city centre apartment brings with it many benefits: shops are within walking distance, there’s plenty of gigs and nightly entertainment, decent public transport, the list goes on. But arguably one of the best things about city life is the ambience, the hustle and bustle. Simply by looking out my window I am transported to another world. All human life exists out there.  For the most part this just results in me marvelling at the volume of traffic going in and out of Eddie Rocket’s on an hourly basis. But of late I have become privy to something altogether more fascinating.

Anyone even slightly familiar with Limerick city will be all too aware of the prostitution hot spots dotted around its environs.  And up until quite recently I was fully aware of which places to avoid at night if I wished to take an evening stroll unmolested. However now I no longer need wonder how those employed in the oldest occupation in the world are faring on the streets of Limerick city. How come? Because much to my delight I can see for myself. From the comfort of my own window. That’s right the premises have moved. And those of us lucky to live on this street have got front row seats.

I have stopped short of naming the street on which I live. It’s no big secret and anyone who has followed this story in the past will be fully aware of my location. I would just prefer to withhold that information thank you very much. Now back to the whores. Contrary to what those at the helm of Operation Freewheel may think: business is booming. As soon as night falls the girls arrive. Usually no more than four at a time and quite often as little as two. They aimlessly amble up and down the street, twirling their umbrellas as they go, and make no attempt to conceal their intentions whatsoever. Am I offended by their presence? Not in the slightest. Entertained? Most definitely.

So there I sit totally engrossed in the proceedings and imagining myself on some sort of stakeout. Punters, from all walks of life, come and go and everyone seems to be having a jolly good time. The girls – I call them girls because they seem too young to be considered women – appear to be predominately Eastern European and go about their job with gusto. The men, undeterred despite the menace of Operation Freewheel, accompany their paramours down a shady alley into a dingy apartment and return some time later looking content with their lot. If I didn’t know any better I’d think they were going in there for some tea and crumpets.

There doesn’t appear to be any victims in this transaction. But, as ever, appearances can be deceptive. What do we know of these girls so cheerfully plying their trade until the small wee hours on a nightly basis? Was it their dream as a child to one day flee their homeland and come to Ireland to work as a prostitute? We may never know the true extent of sex trafficking in this country. But barely a day goes by without a tale of how these women are brought into Ireland under false pretences and subsequently mistreated and abused by pimps who see them as nothing more than a cash making commodity.

 So why is it that the people responsible for transporting these unassuming harlots onto our streets remain untouched while those guilty of only incredible stupidity are hauled up before the courts? The 21 unfortunate deviants awaiting trial deserve to be taught a harsh lesson but you can’t help feeling that their transgressions are the lesser of two evils. Gardaí may point to a successful operation which has helped clear the streets of 21 potential customers and thus hit the prostitutes where it hurts but are they really that naive? There will always be an abundance of custom for these women and the gangs which control them. All the undercover stings in the world will not change that fact.

Far be it for me to advise our noble policemen and women on how to do their job but it seems that they have taken the easy option. Rather than investigate the circumstances which have allowed these women to enter our country and work as hookers they would prefer to keep their hands clean and pick up a few misguided fools looking for some nocturnal thrills. Perhaps a lack of resources or more likely a lack of initiative is the true reason for this much feted Operation Freewheel. So what is the solution then? If our law enforcers haven’t the gumption to uncover the true workings of the illegal sex trade in Ireland then how can we ever hope to rid our streets of these temptresses? Well maybe we don’t have to.

The call to legalise prostitution in this country has been met with much derision by those in power but is it really that bad an idea? Obviously it will never happen but think of the boost to our ailing economy if we took the progressive decision to allow street workers and online escorts to work in permissible brothels. No longer would Amsterdam be the city of choice for randy groups of lads looking for a weekend away with the boys. They would flock to our shores practically dripping with lust and bring a much needed boost to our tourism trade. Hell why don’t we go the whole hog and legalise cannabis while we’re at it?!

Okay so I may be getting a little carried away, too much time spent watching strumpets does that to you. But the fact remains that little or nothing has changed in the Limerick city prostitution game. The women continue to patrol the streets unhindered. The men continue to solicit their services. Where are the Guards? I don’t see them. Ever. Maybe they’re watching too I don’t know. I’ve toyed with the idea of coming forth with this information but what would be the point? Much better to write a story about it don’t you think?

So while the members of An Gardaí Síochana plot the next sting on unsuspecting members of the public the game goes on. The girls work their pert little asses off and dream about making enough money to return home to their families. But it’s not all plain sailing for them. The Guards may not be all that bothered about what they get up to but there are still some other menacing threats to watch out for. They may be simply providing a service for which they and their taskmasters get richly rewarded for but that doesn’t mean they’re not safe from the fury of a woman scorned.

On one of my many stakeouts I was treated to a sight which left me almost as terrified as I was exhilarated. As the night’s proceedings wound down to a close and I contemplated hitting the hay I watched in wonder as each and every one of the jaunty jezebels turned foot and fled as if their very lives depended on it. What was the cause of their terror I thought as they scampered into the dark recesses of the night? An irate customer wielding some foreboding papers from the local STI clinic? A menacing pimp determined to get his two pounds of flesh? Nope, neither of those. It was instead a mob of local lasses intent on bringing the pain, Limerick style. I never did find out what caused their malevolence towards the hookers. The whole sorry mess spilled over onto another street and out of my sightline. I could have left the comfort of my abode and continued my investigation outside but I had my slippers on and it had been raining so I stayed indoors. Some Journalist I am.

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