Organised Crime and Prostitution: 2000-2016

The ICI research revealed a criminal underworld in which international traffickers, Irish pimps, prostitution agencies and buyers collaborate in the commercial sexual exploitation of both trafficked and migrant women within the Irish sex trade. It revealed that prostitution in Ireland is highly organised, with women being constantly moved from place to place and that prostitution agencies and pimps exercise varying degrees of penalty, debt bondage, control and violence. The research estimated that this is a highly lucrative industry worth approximately €180 million a year.1 TORL highlighted how these findings reflect the evidence of Garda operations and the work of investigative journalists over the past 16 years.

Operations of An Garda Síochána

Garda operations and investigative journalists have consistently revealed that the Irish sex trade is run by organised crime gangs and that Irish pimps, prostitution agencies and international traffickers operate to supply the same market. From the early 2000’s, An Garda Síochána conducted a series of targeted operations. The murder of two young women in prostitution led to Operation Gladiator, a major crackdown on the sex trade resulting in over 1,000 arrests. Media sources at the time revealed a very different market involving Russians, Lithuanians and multiple other Eastern and Central European actors. Operation Gladiator was followed by Operation Quest (2003) which exposed high numbers of migrant women in lap dancing clubs. In a number of raids, over 100 migrant women were found, mainly from the Balkans and Russia, an early indication of the presence of young vulnerable migrants being exploited in the Irish sex trade. Operation Hotel (2005) investigated the trafficking of Eastern European women into the Irish sex industry and Operation Snow (2007) examined the allegation that a number of Nigerian children were trafficked into Ireland, resulting in the arrest of a known child trafficker who was sought by police in the Netherlands.

In 2011, speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee, Garda Superintendent Fergus Healy spoke about the current organisation of the Irish sex trade. An analysis of Garda special operations targeting the sex trade concluded that mobile telecommunications advances had contributed significantly to the expansion of the industry. Brothels and escort agencies advertise their services on numerous sites and provide their contact details, usually mobile phone numbers through these sites. Garda Superintendent Healy stated that An Garda Síochána has observed a noticeable change in the industry in the past two to three years, with an increasing number of foreign nationals associated with the running of the prostitution business. There is evidence that some of these individuals are associated with organised crime groups both in this jurisdiction and in their countries of origin. The Gardaí believe that it is highly probable that a large percentage of the monies generated from the industry is being redeployed into organised crime groups, domestically and internationally.

Investigative journalists

Investigative crime journalists have also played their part in exposing the level of organised and violent criminals who were running the commercial sex trade in Ireland. In his book Sex in the City (2003), Paul Reynolds states that ‘prostitution is a lucrative and thriving area of criminal activity in this country’. He describes an underworld of highly organised criminals who operate a multi-million-pound industry estimating that the Irish sex industry, even in 2003, was worth €100m. For example, eight brothel owners in Dublin were estimated to have earned between €1,500 and €3,500 per week, an average of €125,000 a year. Reynolds names many big operators, including Peter Mc Cormack who had already emerged as one of the biggest brothel owners known to the Gardaí, one of those targeted by Operation Gladiator. He laundered millions in profit from numerous brothels and then went on to set up the Escort Ireland prostitution web site. He realised the potential of the Internet after print media advertising of prostitution was banned following the successful case against the magazine ‘In Dublin’. The advertising of any form of prostitution became illegal, but websites operate in the UK acting as English limited companies and are thus outside Irish jurisdiction and control. The websites claim they are complying with Irish law on the advertising of prostitution as they state that they are not advertising prostitution but the companionship of an ‘escort’. However, this is belied by the fact that the advertisements show sexually explicit pictures of each woman and the sexual acts on offer. The capacity to place servers outside the jurisdiction has therefore greatly facilitated the growth of a major indoor sex industry in Ireland controlled by prostitution agencies.

Irish criminals were completely in control up to the early 2000’s but Reynolds notes the emergence of criminal gangs from countries such as Russia, Albania and the Balkans, noting the levels of violence against women associated with these gangs. He also comments on the dangers inherent in the political ambivalence of policy makers towards this criminal activity and argues that the absence of a coherent policy to deal with all aspects of the vice industry has implications for society as a whole. Although it may be seen as a less serious form of crime by many, he argues that ‘it can lead to more serious organised crime involving violence, sexual assault, drug abuse and in some cases murder’. Reynolds concludes that ‘politicians could certainly put a severe dent in the multi-million euro earnings of brothel keepers by tackling the demand as opposed to the supply and that it would dramatically reduce the numbers involved in the sex trade by making it an offence, as in Sweden, for a man to procure a woman’.

In his book, On the (2007), Stephen Rogers also revealed that organised gangs were involved in the Irish sex trade using extreme levels of violence and sexual assault against women in prostitution. In a report to the Irish Examiner newspaper in 2010, Rogers describes one case which came before the courts.

Summary of the Carroll case reported by Stephen Rogers in the Irish Examiner 5 February 2010
Family earned millions from control of women

A Carlow man, his South African wife, and his daughter were yesterday sentenced to a combined 12 and a half years in prison for masterminding a sophisticated prostitution racket that spanned Britain and Ireland. Thomas Carroll, aged 48, controlled up to 70 women in Ireland from his vicarage home in a small village in Wales in a bid to stay ‘under the radar’ from Gardaí. Carroll and his ex-prostitute wife, Shamiela Clark, aged 32, pleaded guilty to conspiring to control prostitutes including women trafficked into Ireland from Portugal, Venezuela, Brazil and Nigeria. The couple, along with Carroll’s daughter, Toma, also pleaded guilty to money laundering.

The couple moved their ‘headquarters’ to Pembrokeshire, in Wales, after Gardaí uncovered the prostitution racket running in the Republic and the North. Cardiff Crown Court heard that in one year 1.1 million sterling was placed in Toma Carroll’s bank account. She forwarded the money to her father. Women would charge £140 for 30 minutes of sex, but 75% of the cash would go to the Carrolls. Money was ploughed into property in Ireland, Wales, Bulgaria, South Africa and a holiday home in Mozambique. ‘It was a very lucrative, tax-free enterprise’, said Mr Robert Davies, prosecuting.

Women would be sent from their home country with promises of education or steady jobs. Some went through witchcraft rituals which involved killing animals and one teenage girl was even placed in a coffin so she ‘experienced the fear of death’, the court heard. Women arrived in Ireland via Britain or mainland Europe and were ‘soon put to work’ in rented apartments across Ireland. They were frequently moved around flats to different towns north and south of the border to provide punters with ‘variety’. They were forced to have sex with men out of fear that something terrible would happen to either themselves or their families. They could not turn down a client. They had to be willing to supply sex on demand from 10am to 1am, seven days a week. If they missed a client, they had to pay the fee to their pimps themselves under threat of violence. They operated in 15 towns in the Republic and three in the North. Carroll even planned to set-up an operation in South Africa.

‘Most of the women had been drawn to prostitution by difficult personal circumstances or coerced by fear into selling themselves’, said Mr Davies. ‘Cash was dependent on the women under their management and control seeing as many men as possible. The defendants profited very well from the activities without having to go through the experience themselves of sexual activity with strangers, time and time again.’

Irish detectives first uncovered Carroll’s business in 2006. When Carroll was quizzed, he boasted to officers, ‘Ireland is very beneficial at the moment. It’s a sex-starved country and always has been. It’s the same as drug dealing, but not as rough. It saves rapes and child molestations. It gives people somewhere to go’ They moved to Wales and expanded the business, with scores of mobile phones ringing with inquiries from men looking to pay for sex. Carroll was jailed for seven years, his wife Clark for three and a half and Toma for two years. But Toma was freed because of the time in custody awaiting trial. Judge Neil Bidder told Carroll and Clark, ‘You made huge profits from the women who were exploited. You had no care for those women and you were both prepared to profit from their unhappy trade. You set up brothels all across the Republic and Northern Ireland, renting from unsuspecting landlords and moving women from brothel to brothel as your economic needs dictated.’ Judge Bidder said that though Clark and Carroll did not traffic women, they ‘turned a blind eye’. ‘If you choose to close your eyes to people who bring prostitutes into your business, you must share some of the responsibility for their activity,’ he said. ‘It is more than a coincidence that several of the Nigerian women tell dreadful stories of coercion and all ended up working for you.’

Special reports by RTÉ

In 2011, a special report into prostitution in Ireland, ‘Profiting from Prostitution’ was produced and presented by the journalist Paul Maguire and was broadcast by RTÉ, the national television broadcaster. The programme involved almost a year of intensive investigation which indicated a high level of organisation and control behind the movement of hundreds of women every week across the country. The following information is drawn from the evidence Paul Maguire presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee.

Organisation of prostitution

The programme used sophisticated technology to trail hundreds of women who were being moved all over Ireland on a daily basis. In order to determine the level of organised or forced movement of women, they created a database which recorded every single movement of every ‘escort’ every day, as advertised on the Internet. Over a 12-month period the database indicated a high level of organisation and management behind the movement of hundreds of women every week right across the country. On average, during the period in question when we were monitoring the Internet, 438 women either moved or were moved every week. Further analysis of the figures reveals the level of organisation behind the movement of these women. In the period in question 446 women moved from Cork to Dublin, while in the same period exactly the same number moved in the opposite direction. A further 358 women moved from Galway to Dublin, while 354 moved in the opposite direction. There was a movement of 295 women from Belfast to Dublin, while 291 moved from Dublin to Belfast. The pattern is repeated for every town and city. In relation to figures, what is certain is that somewhere between 500 and 700 women are available every day; however, Garda Superintendent Healy thinks the figures could be up to 800, which may be accurate as we have not been monitoring the website for a while.

Estimated figures and age

During the 12-month period during which we looked at this issue in advance of the programme, in excess of 8,800 profiles were advertised on websites. The daily average number of women advertised was 693. The average age of the women advertised was 25.1 years. Of all escorts advertised, 36% were 21 years old or younger. Almost half advertised themselves as being 25 years of age or younger. Of the women, 97, or 1.1%, of the total number were advertised as being Irish, while 283, or 3.2%, were advertised as UK citizens. But it would appear that the demand was for younger women. We set up a researcher with a profile to act as a prostitute on the website and most of the recorded calls from what were supposed to be potential clients were looking for people who were very young.

Levels of Control

The vast majority of women, 99.24%, were advertised as working for themselves as independent escorts. Our research revealed that this was completely untrue. Most of the women we interviewed or otherwise researched were working for a pimp or some kind of organiser. They were not working independently. I know that following the programme people commented on social media sites and women said they had got involved in prostitution of their own free will, were enjoying it and making money out of it. I spent over one year working on this issue and I could not find somebody who would say that to us.


We managed to find some documentation which related to the management of one particular group, which we believed was using up to 15 to 16 women and was moving them around four or five different locations. Those women were advertising a range of services, depending on the location and the time of year, with 30 minute sessions ranging from €60 to €100. When we got our hands on the documentation related to the individual who we believed was running that operation, it showed over a period of between six and eight months, that this man had accumulated €100,000 from the earnings of the women that he was operating. The women who spoke to us would tell that in some cases they would get half of the money they took in, but one particular individual to whom we spoke was paid less than €20 a day and she had to buy her own condoms and toiletries. In other cases, people were charged excessive rent for the use of what seemed to be a bed in one room.

A follow up documentary in 2015 ‘Sex for Sale’ collated four years of data, tracked the profiles of women on the net and their mobile phones, and monitored the movement of women. The investigation concluded that organised prostitution involving pimping and trafficking of women is widespread in Ireland. The investigators estimate that up to 20 criminal gangs are involved, systematically transporting women countrywide and that over 98% of the women are migrant. The programme filmed women being watched by the criminals while they are used to transfer vast sums of money, the proceeds of prostitution, abroad.


1The Criminal Assets Bureau of An Garda Síochána stated in 2011 that they estimate the profits to be in excess of €250 million.