94% of those who access the HSE Women's Health Service who are involved in prostitution are migrant women, according to a report published by the Sexual Exploitation and Research Programme at UCD.
The report - 'Confronting the Harm' - says many of the migrant women speak limited English and have an insecure immigration status or are undocumented
A two-year study of 144 service users of the Women’s Health Service says that for most, prostitution is ‘all-consuming’, dominating every aspect of women attending the frontline service.
Data and interviews with users of the HSE service shows that women are experiencing persistent or reoccurring sexual and reproductive health harms arising from their involvement in prostitution.
These are the result of the frequency with which multiple buyers have sexual access to their bodies and their demands for harmful and risky practices according to the report.
Women’s mental health and well-being are also negatively impacted, with fears, anxiety, coping difficulties, stress and depression common features in the lives of women in the sex trade.
The women said the cumulative negative effect of having to emulate non-existent sexual desire for buyers, handling demands they find repellent or frightening, enduring physical and sexual contact they can no longer bear impacted their own sexual lives, identities, intimate relationships and ability to trust.
The study found that over half the sample first entered prostitution between the ages of 16 and 24 and poverty and coercion are the main driving forces into the Irish sex trade.
The vast majority are prostituted in brothels, with just one woman saying she was involved in street prostitution
Women attending the service have 28 different, broad-ranging sexual and reproductive health issues. HPV and chlamydia were the most common STIs detected.
Women reported experiencing loneliness, isolation and lack of support. They have no friends and in many cases no family in the country.
The report also says women experience frequent, serious, physical and sexual violence at the hands of perpetrators such as buyers, pimps and traffickers, whilst those profiting from prostitution reap the financial rewards
71% of women who attended the Women's Health Service expressed a desire to exit (leave) prostitution more than once and/or described their future plans outside of prostitution, but it says many remain trapped within in the sex trade.
Only 12 of the women (8.3%) had a GP and three had a medical card. The vast majority are solely dependent on the Dublin-based Women's Health Service.
The report says the continued need for a dedicated, specialist health service for women in prostitution provided by the HSE’s Women's Health Service is evident and it should be extended beyond Dublin.
It says sexual healthcare must be complemented by trauma-informed mental health and well-being supports, to counteract the grave mental health impacts of prostitution
It recommends holistic exiting supports for this group of women. It also says improved identification and support is required for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation
Other forms of support, in particular peer support, is suggested to combat the overwhelming isolation felt by women in prostitution.