The ugly reality of the Irish sex trade

The ugly reality of the Irish sex trade


Irish law must change to criminalise those who purchase sex, writes Sr Stan Kennedy


RTÉ’s Prime Time programme ‘Profiting from Prostitution’, broadcast last week, exposed the shocking and tragic reality of abuse and enslavement endured by many women throughout this country.

The broadcast exposed the ugly reality of the Irish sex trade: shedding light on criminals who make enormous profits from selling women through escort agency websites — with one website alone showing 700 women to be on sale on any given day, at the cost of women’s most fundamental and basic human rights.

It showed the pimps lurking in the background, behind seemingly ‘independent escort’ workers and, most importantly, the programme highlighted the role of men in using women for personal gratification and fuelling this market of abuse.

In the broadcast, we saw how women, an overwhelming majority of whom are migrants, are frequently shipped from town to town, often at the hands of criminals engaged in sex trafficking, to create ‘variety’ for the clients, while serving to isolate, exclude and disorientate them. They work from brothels or apartments and are made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Worryingly, we are under-equipped in tackling this appalling market: we currently just have two high ranking Garda officers working on organised prostitution for the whole country.

This programme could not have come at a more opportune time, as the Minister for Justice will shortly release a consultation paper on whether to make it illegal to purchase sex in Ireland.


As our law currently stands, it is legal to pay for sex indoors, allowing men who purchase sex to act with impunity, thus allowing this horrific abuse of women to flourish.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), being an independent law centre and a human rights organisation that advocates for the rights of migrants and their families, has first-hand experience of the detrimental damage this industry can cause to these women.

Our research publication, entitled ‘Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland’ 2009, provided evidence based on the experiences of the women involved, of the severe harm and abuse that victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation experience.

The research’s main findings were clearly replicated by the RTÉ documentary: our report established that the estimated annual value of the Irish indoor sex industry to be at least €180m a year, there are at least 1,000 women available for sale through the websites all around Ireland on any given day and the overwhelming majority of these women — up to 97 per cent — are migrants.

The ICI, along with 48 other organisations, have formed the Turn off the Red Light (TORL) campaign, a campaign dedicated to ending prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland. We have been campaigning tirelessly for legislative change and are determined to make it happen.

This seedy industry can only continue if men continue to pay for sex — by criminalising the purchase of sex, the demand for sex will be curbed and so too will this abuse.


Indeed more and more European countries are looking to make it illegal to purchase sex. They are turning away from the Dutch experience where prostitution is legal, and which, under close examination, is not ending ‘involuntary prostitution’.

On the contrary, in the Wallen district of Amsterdam, 4,000 women are said to be trafficked or controlled in some way. This number represents the abuse of an extraordinary number of women. We do not want to see this happen in this country.

More than 80 members of the Oireachtas have expressed their support for the TORL campaign, which is gathering great momentum.

However, more politicians, public persons and members of the general public are needed to come forward to support these efforts.

I would urge you, the readers, to make yourselves aware of the facts and join the debate. Visit the Turn off the Red Light website, Facebook: www.facebook. com/turnofftheredlight and Twitter: TurnoffRL. Support is needed. Together we can end this demand-led trade and stop this abuse.

Sr Stan Kennedy is founder and a board member of the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI).