Young mothers in Derry are being forced into prostitution in order to pay off debts, according to a local charity worker.
The manager of a local debt help centre said people are living in fear of predatory lenders and struggling to cope with debts, sometimes related to drugs.
Debt advice charity Christians Against Poverty, based at Spencer House in the Waterside and linked to local Church Cornerstone, say they are expecting a deluge of calls for help in the coming weeks.
Christians Against Poverty Foyle Centre manager Linda Leonard said that in some cases young mothers are being forced to “sell their bodies” in order to pay off debts.
“I have been in Creggan, I have been in the Fountain, I have been everywhere really. It is a problem that cuts across. It doesn’t matter what community, really, I will go,” she said.
“I’ve been in places that have been quite dangerous. I mean, I have been in one house in particular that wasn’t too hot. I’ve seen, I know what there is out there as well. There’s drugs related stuff. I’ve been in a house like that and it can be very scary for people. I ask that question with people too. I say ‘I don’t want anything hidden. I want you to come clean. If you owe your man who is going around lending money to people I need to know because that is another debt and it can go down as a family member.’ We tell them they can just say they owe a family member, because they be terrified.
“I’ve come across a few girls, locally, who have told me they actually had to sell their bodies because they were so nervous about not having the money to pay that this was their only option. It is so sad. You know, these were young mothers with children. I heard this straight from their own mouths. When you are out there, in the middle of the community, these are the things that are happening.”
Linda told another story of a man from the North West who lost everything after getting into debt: “A lot of people have job losses in this town too. A lot of industry in this town just went down hill. There have been a lot of job losses across the North West. There is no work and there are working people who have either lost jobs or can’t get jobs. So many people have been made redundant. I had a man who was made redundant who had a house, a mortgage and a wife and three children. He was made redundant and he just couldn’t make ends meet.
“They ended up at each other’s throats, they couldn’t cope, they broke down in their marriage. He had to sell his home so he lost his job, he lost his home and he lost his family. That fella was ready, as they say, he was ready for the Foyle.” She added: “It’s not just the debt thing, it is all the ripples that come in its wake.”
Christians Against Poverty say that, in the first week of 2015, they received 479 calls for help to their Foyle office. “That is 479 individual families in need of help”, Linda said