94% of those involved in prostitution in Ireland are migrant women and many don't speak English.

A seminar organised by the National Women's Council has heard today that over 700 women are advertised online for prostitution in Ireland daily.

The research was outlined by UCD's Sexual Exploitation Research Programme at the campaign launch of Beyond Exploitation.

Led by the National Women's Council, it is calling for policies and measures that will give people a choice not to be bought and sold for sex.

NWCI Director Orla O'Connor said her organisation is leading the civil campaign due to the profound social injustice of prostitution and sex exploitation.

She told the seminar that 86% of those who are trafficked in Ireland end up in the sex trade.

According to Ruth Breslin of UCD's SERP team, which has been researching the sex trade since 2017, a great deal of evidence shows prostitution is a highly organised trade here with many profiting on vulnerable, mainly migrant women.

She said women are moving or being moved around the country to satisfy demands. It means they are living or sleeping in multiple locations where they see buyers.

Ms Breslin said the majority of women want to exit the sex trade as soon as possible.

The Beyond Exploitation campaign is informed by the Equality Model according to those who are leading it including Ruhama and the Immigrant Council.

Central to this model is the 2017 law ensuring that the selling of sex by individuals is no longer illegal in Ireland.

At the same time the Equality Model reduces demand for sexual exploitation by making it illegal to pay for sex, complementing earlier laws that also make it illegal to pimp someone for sex, and to run a brothel.

Vulnerable people

The seminar heard that the Equality Model has reinforced Ireland's commitment to human rights and equality by making the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people in prostitution illegal.

However, legislation is just one part of the Equality Model.

Poverty, lack of choice and precarious immigration status are some of the reasons many women end up in prostitution.

Mia DeFaoite is leading the campaign because she has lived experience of prostitution.

Ms DeFaoite told the seminar that no woman or young girl should be left in a place "feeling trapped and violated daily" where they are left alone.

The Seminar heard that many of the women can't speak English, don't know what country they are in and don't know who they can trust.

Commissioner for Irish Human Rights and Equality and Head of Operations and Strategy at AkiDwA Salome Mbugua said poverty, lack of opportunities and social constraints are key factors pushing women into prostitution.

She noted the recent case in Mullingar, where two women were found guilty of human trafficking and prostitution in a case believed to be the first conviction of its kind in the country.

Ms Mbugua pointed out that the victims had been given empty promises before they came to this country.

"We can't call it a job", she said. "Most do it as a survival mechanism, it's exploitation and a form of gender based violence."

Exit strategy

CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland Brian Killoran described the sex trade as "overwhelmingly a place of exploitation" and not of emancipation or empowerment.

He said decriminalisation would be the first step followed by clear comprehensive exit strategies for those wishing to leave the trade.

Mia DeFaoite said exit strategies would require different Government departments working together to address the different needs of those involved.

CEO of Ruhama Barbara Condon cited France as an example of a country where state funds are used to help women exit the trade.

She pointed out that financial desperation keeps people trapped - funding she said would give people an opportunity to "get back on their feet".

The CEO of the Children's Rights Alliance Tanya Ward addressed the exploitation of children in a sex industry which she said "knows no borders".

She pointed out that children are moved around the world to service men and of course there's issue of the sale of child images globally.

Ms Ward pointed out that Ireland "came late to signing and endorsing" the UN convention on the rights of the child and the Lanzarote Convention - which requires criminalisation of sexual offences against children.

"What concerns me is that a lot of women said they were sold as children for sexual exploitation in other countries", she said.

Ms Ward pointed out that there are vulnerable children in the Irish care system and in Direct Provision.

She expressed expressed concern that these children may be targeted by those in the industry.