Men paying for sex are seeking women to act as their “real girlfriend” or a “real porn star” – or even both – and write online reviews complaining when they don’t get what they want, according to a new study.
The research says violence is “endemic” in the sex trade, with many women reporting fear of violence and actual physical and sexual violence.
A study conducted by the Sexual Exploitation Research Programme in UCD said that on a typical day there were more than 650 people advertising their services on Escort Ireland, the country’s largest prostitution advertising platform – about a third of them outside urban areas.
Authors Dr Monica O’Connor and Ruth Breslin identified more than 1,300 buyer reviews on the website between April and July 2020, during the pandemic.
“The sex trade in Ireland is clearly a buyers’ market, with women expected to fulfil a whole host of buyer demands relating to appearance, dress, age or an appearance of youthfulness and ethnic stereotypes,” the report said.
“Women are also required to ‘act’ according to buyers’ requirements – convincingly playing the role of his real girlfriend or a real ‘porn star’, or some combination of both. When women fail to effectively perform these roles, buyers constantly complain of a distant or mechanical experience.”
The report, entitled 'Shifting the Burden of Criminality', said the women often found it very difficult to provide the sexual acts demanded, including ones that carried risk of physical or sexual health harms or were intrusive or dangerous, such as being photographed or “stealthed” – where the condom is taken off during sex.
The report, funded by the Department of Justice, said traumatic consequences of prostitution, and trafficking, include physical injuries, long-term chronic pain and severe mental health problems.
It said data collected by the HSE specialist Women’s Health Service between 2015 and 2018 found that a fifth of sex workers using their service disclosed threats of violence and actual violence – including being robbed, beaten, drugged and raped.
“It is clear that violence against women is endemic to the sex trade and is used by criminals, pimps and buyers alike as a means to control women or ensure that they bend to their will,” said the report.
It said gangs and pimps were “highly proactive in ensuring a constant supply of women” to secure its profits and meet demand.
The gangs often charged women exorbitant rents – up to €700 per week – with the women often paying €160 per week on advertising, conditions that “entrap women”.
The authors concluded that the sex trade “causes untold misery and harm” to very many of the women caught within it and that it “cannot be permitted to persist or expand”.
They said the most effective way of doing this was to cut off demand.
The research-backed laws, introduced in 2017, criminalising the purchase of sex – a law which is currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice.