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NWC launches research on attitudes to sexual exploitation amongst women’s advocates

Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The National Women’s Council today publishes the findings of a collaborative study between NWC and UCD’s Sexual Exploitation Research Programme (SERP) which explores attitudes to the sexual exploitation of women and girls in the commercial sex trade in Ireland, and its impact on gender equality.   

The research was co-designed and co-delivered by SERP’s Lead Researcher Ruth Breslin and NWC’s Beyond Exploitation Coordinator, Mia de Faoite, sex trade survivor and advocate. The study consisted of focus groups with 22 of NWC’s member organisations. The participants included NWC members working on domestic and gender-based violence, organisations supporting migrant and refugee women, and organisations working in broader sectors such as health and labour rights.  

The research was funded by the Irish Research Council. Ivana Bacik TD will officially launch the research.  

Director of NWC Orla O’Connor said:  

“It’s clear from this research that organisations who work with, for example, migrant women or homeless women, have a clear understanding of the factors that push women into the sex trade. The participants were very clear that poverty and financial need undermines the idea of consent and questioned if women who felt there was no other financial option but prostitution could ever really consent.” 

The sex trade is heavily gendered, and migrant women make up an average of 84% of women in prostitution across 13 European countries. In Ireland, the profile of women in the sex trade (estimated to be 1,000 women at any one time) is of young, vulnerable migrants from the Global South and impoverished regions of Central and Eastern Europe.  

Ruth Breslin of UCD SERP said:  

“Participants in this research felt strongly it was time to switch the focus back to the buyers of sex, to the men who believe in buying sexual access to women. The impact of this misogynistic attitude is felt throughout society, in the brutality so common in the sex trade to the normalised violence and sexism perpetrated daily against women – especially young women.” 

Dr Marie Keenan, also of UCD SERP, said:  

“Many of the research participants felt that an emphasis on individual choice meant that aspects of the sex trade, like endemic violence and exploitation of financial vulnerability, were overlooked in some analyses. It is indeed a positive and progressive step that the Irish government has formally recognised prostitution as a form of gender-based violence in the new Third National Strategy on domestic and gender-based violence.” 


Find here the research Gender Equality and Sexual Consent in the Context of Commercial Sexual Exploitation

For more information, please contact Sinéad Nolan, NWC Communications and Social Media Coordinator, sineadn@nwci.ie