The importance of national research


The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) recognised the critical need for research in providing an evidence base from which to develop practice and policy in relation to trafficking for sexual exploitation in Ireland. In 2007, the organisation commissioned a major piece of research to examine the trafficking of women and girls into Ireland and the sexual exploitation of both trafficked and migrant women within the Irish sex trade, entitled ‘Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland‘. The aims and objectives of the research were to:

  • Produce a preliminary estimate of the profile and experiences of women who are identified as trafficked into and through Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation
  • Examine the organisation and operation of the sex trade in Ireland, together with a preliminary estimate of the numbers and profile of women in prostitution in Ireland
  • Document the various forms of movement, deception and coercion and the impact on the health of women trafficked and prostituted in indoor locations
  • Highlight international best practice in responding to prostitution and sex trafficking
  • Outline how women in the Irish sex trade can be supported and protected, and how trafficking into and through Ireland can be prevented.

Building agreement and buy-in in all the key statutory, NGO and front line agencies

An advisory committee was established with academics, a senior member of An Garda Síochána with responsibility for the trafficking of human beings in Ireland, the executive director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit at the Department of Justice and Equality, international experts, senior solicitors specialising in trafficking, representatives of the Irish and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissions and representatives of the key agencies and NGOs responding to the needs of prostituted and trafficked women in Ireland and the U.K.

Appointment of independent researchers

The researchers appointed to conduct the research were Dr Patricia Kelleher, Carmel Kelleher, Dr Monica O’Connor and Dr Jane Pillinger who are highly qualified, respected and experienced researchers with numerous publications in the areas of social policy, equality and violence against women. The research was carried out over a 21-month period between 2007 and 2008.

Methodology and data sources

Recognising the complexity of researching prostitution and trafficking, a broad range of data sources and research methods were employed including:

  • An internet audit of women advertised as selling sex on the numerous web sites
  • The elicitation of data from 11 agencies/NGOs including Ruhama, the Women’s Health Service (WHS) (HSE), STOP Sex Trafficking, Cork and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. to determine the number of cases, if any, of trafficked persons they had contact with over a 21-month period between 2007 and 2008
  • Analysis of information provided by the WHS (HSE) on the impact of prostitution on women’s health. In conjunction with the researchers, an individual form was filled out on 73 women. The data was analysed to document the impact of prostitution on the sexual and reproductive health of women
  • Content analysis of reviews1 to document the views of men who buy sex
  • Qualitative semi-structured interviews with 12 women currently in prostitution to complement the quantitative data and the documentary analysis
  • In addition, data was used from the study commissioned by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and Department of Health and Children, The Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships (2006), and the Irish Escort Clients Survey,
  • The research is also framed within an international context. A survey of prostitution regimes in different countries was conducted and international best practice in relation to addressing trafficking and prostitution was analysed.

Findings of the research

The research revealed a criminal underworld in which international traffickers, Irish pimps, prostitution agencies and buyers collaborate in the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. It indicates a highly lucrative industry worth approximately €180 million and easily accessible indoor prostitution in which we would estimate at least 1,000 women are available to be bought at any one time. Key findings include:

Profile of women exploited in the Irish sex trade
  • 102 women identified as trafficked for sexual exploitation; 11% were girls at the time
  • 1,000 women in indoor prostitution with over 800 women advertised on the internet with sexually explicit pictures and detailed lists of the sexual acts which can be bought
  • Between 87% and 97% are migrant women aged between 18 and 58 with some evidence that girls as young as 16 years are involved; 51 different nationalities of women advertised
  • Apartments, hotels and ‘call outs’ to the home of the buyers are the main locations (19 of the 26 counties were named)
  • ‘Call outs’ are a frequent demand; order forms are provided with a detailed form outlining her body, nationality and the sexual acts the buyer wants
  • A significant proportion of men buy sex during the daytime (lunchtime) and in the evenings after work.
Male demand
  • Surveys indicate that one in 15 men in Ireland reported that they buy sex; they tend to be educated with incomes in the middle range
  • Dangerous, unprotected sexual activities are commonplace with high proportion of buyers stating they had unprotected oral, vaginal and anal sex
  • Increasing pressure on women to put their own health at risk and engage in high risk activities with bodily fluids
  • Ireland is an internet site where buyers post reviews on the women. In an analysis of over 1,000 postings the key ratings were of: good value for money; physical attributes; explicit details of sexual acts demanded; the degree of sexual gratification; the expectation that she enjoys it and an expectation of ‘the girlfriend experience’ with severe criticism of women who were not satisfactory.
Interviews with women

The researchers interviewed 12 migrant women in the Women’s Health Service, HSE or in their apartments and witnessed first-hand the distressing context in which these very young migrants were situated in order to service the sexual demands of Irish men. The women are mainly recruited through prostitution (‘escort’) agencies from impoverished regions in Latin America and Central Europe. While some women may operate independently, the Irish sex industry is for the most part highly organised with women being constantly moved from place to place. Thereby, prostitution agencies and pimps exercise different levels of penalty, debt bondage, control and violence. In some ‘high class’ agencies the buyers pay €400 to have her in an apartment or hotel to do anything they require. In other agencies women have to walk up and down naked and men choose which girl they want. The interviews revealed the increasing demand in Ireland for unprotected sex and sexual practice damaging to women’s sexual, reproductive, mental and physical health.

Analysis of prostitution regimes in other jurisdictions

The research examined different countries to identify measures that would be appropriate to the challenges facing Ireland in the prevention of trafficking for sexual exploitation and in the provision of services for victims of trafficking and women engaged in prostitution. It examined these measures within a framework of human rights instruments, in particular the provisions of the UN Palermo Protocol, the Council of Europe Convention, other instruments related to gender equality and gender-based violence. It started from the position that, in order to tackle trafficking for sexual exploitation, it is necessary to examine its relationship to the sex industry more generally.

In light of the above, approaches taken in Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain and the UK were examined. Particular attention was also paid to the principles and standards established through the Nordic-Baltic project on trafficking, which represents a good-practice model for cooperation between origin and destination countries in providing support services for women victims of trafficking and migrant women in prostitution. The project highlighted the importance of a gender equality perspective in anti-trafficking work, and the links between trafficking, prostitution and violence against women.

The research concluded that there are compelling arguments for adopting policy and legislation that is rooted in a gender equality and human rights framework. The research also recognised the need to define objectives to reduce both the supply and the demand side of trafficking, in particular by addressing demand in the commercial sex industry. The research concluded that the Swedish approach best encompassed those principles and objectives.


The research contains a comprehensive range of measures in relation to the provision of services to women, policy and legislation in relation to both prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. Key recommendations include:

  • All women in prostitution, including trafficked women, should be entitled to basic services, regardless of cooperation with the Gardaí in an investigation or prosecution. Immediate access to independent legal representation for all migrant and trafficked women in the sex industry at the first point of contact should be ensured
  • Access to sexual and reproductive, psychological and physical health should be avalaible on a national basis. The provision of exit routes to enable women to move out of prostitution must be a core part of any overall strategy
  • Legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex and de-criminalise the selling of sex should be enacted. Resources and training to ensure that law enforcement is effective should be guaranteed
  • Public awareness campaigns should be resourced which demonstrate the intrinsic harm of prostitution and aim to to change cultural attitudes on the acceptability of the buying of a person for sex.
Sr Stan Kennedy –
Founder of the Immigrant Council of Ireland

1These are reviews by the buyers of sex on their views of the women from whom they bought