Hundreds of young women trafficked to Ireland have been forced into the sex industry, it was revealed today.
A new study found more than 1,000 women are working in brothels – with up to 97% of them migrants.
Organisations which have already helped 102 victims of trafficking in less than two years fear many hundreds more are being sexually exploited in the underground industry.
Researchers claim the trade is worth an estimated €180m a year.
Sr Stan Kennedy, founder of the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), which commissioned the study, said the scale of exploitation of migrant women demanded an urgent and comprehensive response from the Government.
She said: “This report uncovers a heartbreaking and sickening litany of rape, abuse and exploitation for profit of migrant women on Irish soil yet, often, our first official response is to look for breaches of immigration law, rather than addressing the urgent need to provide appropriate services and assistance.
“We must put the needs of these women at the heart of our response to tackling trafficking. We have not been doing that appropriately so far.
“The physical and emotional harm these women experience, their real concerns about the health impacts of prostitution and the stories they tell of their unhappiness and abhorrence of their situation, the violence and the threat of violence, should dispel any notion that these women are involved in harmless commercial transactions.”
The study, 'Globalisaton, Sex Trafficking And Prostitution – The Experience Of Migrant Women In Ireland', revealed widespread exploitation of migrant women in the sex industry.
ICI chief executive Denise Charlton said the 102 victims who contacted support organisations were involved in coercion or deceptive recruitment, transport within or across borders and exploitation.
These women and girls got support from 10 different services over a 21-month period in 2007 and 2008, and are believed to be a fraction of the number of victims of sex trafficking in Ireland.
Ms Charlton said: “Men who buy sex might think they are involved in a consensual commercial transaction but the research findings give the lie to that.
“Men who buy sex are a crucial link in a chain of exploitation that results in serious harm to women. Without them, the sex industry would not exist.
“We call on the Government to criminalise the buying of sex in Ireland and to put in place effective programmes which examine the legal and human rights implications and the realities of prostitution.”
The study, authored by Patricia and Carmel Kelleher, Monica O’Connor and Dr Jane Pillinger, was undertaken in collaboration with the Women’s Health Project and Ruhama and was funded by the Religious Sisters of Charity.
Kathleen Fahy, director of Ruhama, which works with victims of trafficking, said it left no doubt that the sex trade is firmly established in Ireland with many global links.
“The trafficking of women is well organised and covert,” said Ms Fahy. “It is difficult to establish the full extent of this horrific criminal activity.
“Ruhama has been working with women who are victims of sex trafficking for almost a decade and over the years we have had difficulty in convincing authorities and policy makers that this is a serious, growing problem in Ireland.”