A survey of sex buyers across five EU countries, including Ireland, shows strong links between prostitution and the criminal underworld.
The study shows that most buyers of sex in Ireland do not see any connection between their activity and the trafficking of girls and women.
It also found that sex buyers are mostly well-educated men in relationships and that two-thirds of them are earning more than €20,000 a year.
The study looked at five EU countries: Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland and Lithuania.
An estimated €25bn is made from the sex trade in Europe, of which €250m is made in Ireland.
There is no precise figure for the numbers trafficked into Ireland, but it is believed there are more than 100 such girls and women in the country.
The research was the focus of discussions at an international conference yesterday at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.
The conference was hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland as part of the European Commission-funded ‘Stop Traffick’ Project.
Immigrant Council chief executive Denise Charlton said criminalising sex buyers is the best way to prevent exploitation and the trafficking of girls and women.
Ms Charlton said the new research shows most people who pay for sex are highly educated and in a relationship. She said it was worrying that one in five had come across a young woman being exploited.
“There are a number of alarming aspects of this study which require urgent consideration not just at European level, but by individual governments,” said Ms Charlton.
“Our work in Ireland has shattered the myth that it is lonely men on the fringes of society who buy sex.
“Ireland’s sex buyers are men (92%), over the age of 45 (45%), earning over €20,000 (63%) and in a relationship (52%). These figures mirror the results obtained in the other countries.”
Researchers from the council advertised in online chat rooms, forums and websites and surveyed 410 people of which 58 were buyers of sex.
It found that over one in every five buyers have come across women and girls who appeared to be under the control of pimps or others. The international research showed that around 30% of the buyers witness exploitation.
The research also shows that what men fear most is being named in a local newspaper (54%) followed by prosecution (46%).