Two-thirds of people intimidated by drug dealers or threatened over drug debts do not report it to gardai, a study has revealed.
Experts working with addicts and their families in Dublin have warned that most of those who are harassed and abused try to deal with it themselves for fear of reprisal attacks if they go to authorities.
The CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign said its research showed half of the incidents of intimidation involved beatings and violence and almost a third involved damage to homes or property.
Mothers of drug users make up a third of those targeted by dealers and gangsters, the report found.
Criminologist Johnny Connolly, who helped compile the report, described the intimidation as a hidden harm which causes immense distress in many communities.
“It is, in a sense, not on the general public radar but very much part of life for many,” he said.
“Even where offenders might be prosecuted or even imprisoned, this does not alleviate the fear for most people.
“There does not appear to be any safety net that can reassure people in such circumstances. This poses a major challenge for the criminal justice system and society in general.”
Dr Connolly, a research fellow at Trinity College, said there is an onus on the criminal justice system to address the crisis of confidence quickly as it undermines the credibility of policing and the courts.
“There is a need to shift the balance of power for such communities and to prevent such crimes from becoming normalised,” he said.
Dr Connolly called on authorities to acknowledge some policing and justice strategies against drugs gangs are failing.
The CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign looked at 140 reports of intimidation from 13 local and regional drugs task forces, focus groups attended by 150 people and another six focus groups with ex-prisoners, family support workers, travellers and youth workers.
More than two-thirds of the victims of intimidation suffered mental health problems, a third were physically injured and 70% felt afraid in their own homes.
Drug debts at the centre of the crisis are on average 500 to 5,000 euro.
Anna Quigley, CityWide’s co-ordinator, said other research shows debts are often not cleared when the money is paid.
“There are a small but significant number of people being forced to sell drugs or hold drugs or weapons,” she said.
“As a result, people who may have marginal involvement with illicit drugs – as well as their families – can become entrapped in the drugs trade with all of the negative consequences that flow from that including involvement in the criminal justice system.”