A study of sex buyers across five EU countries, including Ireland, shows strong links between prostitution and the criminal underworld.

The research published today found that most buyers of sex in Ireland do not see any connection between buying sex 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 over 100 such girls and women in the country.

The research is the focus of discussions at an international conference today at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

The conference is hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland as part of the European-Commission funded 'Stop Traffick' Project.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, 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 and worrying that one in five had come across a young woman being exploited.

Ms Charlton also said the main fears of sex buyers were fear of prosecution or media exposure.