Evidence based campaign

All of the recommendations advocated by TORL are underpinned by a solid evidence base. Throughout the campaign we conducted research projects and published data on key issues to ensure that the campaign was based on clear evidence and data on human trafficking and prostitution. There are a number of ways this was progressed.

Firstly, casework and the direct experience of those exploited in the sex trade, are core to the campaign’s key recommendations, the introduction of sex buyer laws, and greater protections for those who are being exploited. The frontline and survivor organisations in TORL communicate their clients’ experience and stories to underpin the need for this legal change. The campaign was initially, and is continually, informed by the experiences of women and girls in the sex industry through casework and survivor experiences.

Documenting the direct experience of those exploited in the trade highlighted possible information gaps on the sex industry and the appropriate responses to tackle it. After a roundtable discussion with representatives from Civil Society and the State sector, it was agreed that research would be commissioned to define the problem, to access the breadth and extent of it, and consider relevant national and international responses. Members of the campaign wanted to look at other jurisdictions, varying responses and if, and how, these might be applicable in a national context. Research commissioned by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and supported by many frontline services, in state and civil society sectors, at national and EU levels, took 21 months to research the sex trade in Ireland. The research study, Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland, looked at the sex trade, the experience of those in it, the links between human trafficking and prostitution and examined varying approaches deemed to be most effective in reducing both prostitution and trafficking. The evidence this unique study provided, the first of its kind in Europe, provide the evidence for the campaign’s recommendations.

In addition, further research was commissioned, funded by the EU, to consider the buying experiences of men using prostitution. The Immigrant Council of Ireland led a five country research project, focussing on demand for prostitution and the relevance of human trafficking in this context. We examined men’s attitudes to buying sex, and what they believed to be effective deterrents. Again, the campaign considered international experiences and approaches, to inform the debate and subsequent recommended responses.

In addition to commissioning our own research, the campaign considered and communicated research and evidence available through other national and international studies. The campaign looked at the reality and impact of the sex trade in other countries and the outcomes of the various approaches that have been adopted and evaluated. The members considered approaches in countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand, among others. We interrogated the research findings and, where possible, supported this with a study visit to explore the findings in greater depth and how they might be relevant to the Irish context.

Below are some of the research reports that are core to the campaign’s position.
  • The importance of national research
  • Link to EU study on demand
  • Link to research/studies as resource (evaluation in SwedenNetherlandsGermany
  • Link to research/studies and resources

The Importance of National Research


The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) recognised the critical need for research in providing as 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 Punter.net 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 Surveys, EscortSurveys.com
  • 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
  • Punter.net 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

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

Summary on Swedish research


Summary of Primetime investigates


EU study on demand


Swedish Evaluation

Dutch Evaluation

The Netherlands introduced legislation in 2000 to legalise the commercial exploitation of prostitution provided that this involved people who are of age, and who carry out their work voluntarily and legally. The stated objectives of the law were: to penalise all forms of exploitation in the prostitution sector; legalise ‘acceptable’ commercial prostitution and remove ‘unacceptable’ forms of prostitution including trafficking, involuntary prostitution, and child sexual exploitation. It is worth noting that a major impetus and rationale for the law was to improve the health and welfare of sex workers, reduce organised criminal involvement and eliminate pimping. A comprehensive evaluation in 2007 indicated that few if any if the stated objectives have been realised and that the law has had many negative consequences.Findings of the evaluation include:

  • Estimated 25,000 people in prostitution in the legal sector with 1,300 – 1,700 legal brothels/location bound premises
  • 900 – 1,000 victims of human trafficking are being identified annually
  • Unknown number of illegal and non-location bound premises i.e. private apartments
  • Pimping is widespread as checks are focused only on owners of the establishments and pimps operate outside
  • Girls arriving at legal locations on their 18th birthday; boyfriend/’lover boy’ identified as pimps
  • Evidence that half those in escort business are very young and started pre age 20
  • Emotional well-being of women is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects, and the use of sedatives has increased
  • Only 6% of municipalities had a policy on exiting
  • Police capacity being used up for inspections in the regulated sector rather than criminal aspects of illegal sector
  • Highly regarded measures to tackle trafficking with huge resources yet still have over 1,000 trafficked victims a year
  • Number of foreign prostitutes working without a valid residence permit had decrease
  • Increase in prostitutes from East European countries that fall under the EEA
  • Increased concern by police in Amsterdam consistently stating the policy is not working
  •  The non-location bound premises i.e. escort agencies and internet prostitution continues to expand outside the regulated sector

The authors of the evaluation conclude that it was ‘virtually impossible’ to ascertain whether the law had succeeded in combating the exploitation of involuntary prostitution and that pimping is widespread. Although they could find no evidence of children in the legal sector, a worrying phenomenon they found was that girls are arriving at legal places on their 18th birthday having been groomed and possibly prostituted elsewhere from an early age by boyfriend/’lover boy’ pimps. There was also evidence that half of those in escort business were very young and had started before the age of 20. Perhaps given the constant reference to the welfare of sex workers in the discussion document, a critical finding was that the emotional well-being of women is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects, and the use of sedatives has increased. Furthermore, despite a commitment to the setting up of exit routes for women, as the majority of women stated their wish to leave the industry, only 6% of municipalities had done so.


1Daalder, A. L. (2007). Prostitution in the Netherlands since the lifting of the brothel ban. The Netherlands: Research and Documentation Center/Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek-en-Documentatiecentrum (WODC).