As many as 55 prostitutes were working in Galway in the run-up to Christmas, according to a support group for the women.
But it has also been revealed these numbers change daily as women and girls are moved around the country to satisfy the demand for paid sex.
“Women are just like pawns in the whole structure of it,” said Linda Latham of The Women’s Health Project; a sexual health and support service for women working in prostitution.
Many of the women, it is reported, become involved in prostitution from a young age, often through means of deception and human trafficking.
A recent RTÉ investigative documentary: ‘Sex for Sale’, highlighted the vicious nature of prostitution for women in Ireland – where rape, violence and forced criminality is a common experience.
Over the same weekend, ‘Escort Ireland’ advertised the services of 712 women for sale across the country. It is believed that at any one time there are between 40 and 60 operating in Galway City, though seasonal peaks such as the Galway Races can see the figure soar around 200.
‘Turn off the Red Light’, a campaign to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland, is an alliance of unions, non-governmental organisations and individuals. Their 73 agencies with 1.6 million members are now calling on political parties to support the Sexual Offences Bill, and see it swiftly through the legislative process. (There are five stages involved in passing the legislation).
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Francis Fitzgerald published the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 in September (first stage). The Bill proposed wide ranging reforms of the law, with an overarching theme on addressing sexual exploitation, in particular of children and those engaged in prostitution.
The new legislation will target those who pay to engage in sexual activity with sex workers, and tougher penalties will be imposed on those who buy sexual services from victims of human trafficking.
Not all sex workers are duped or coerced into the lifestyle – however evidence suggests the majority are. Statistics indicate 98% of sex workers in Ireland are migrants – predominantly from Romania and Bulgaria, though advertised as Spanish and Italian on escort websites. These women are more often than not, illegal immigrants with little education or skills; therefore escape is problematic and they often find themselves trapped.
Women put their health and safety at risk whilst ‘pimps’ cut 50% of the profits without risk. It is reported the average sex worker in Galway will charge €50-€60 per half hour – with extra charges imposed for particular services.
Denise Charlton, an expert on trafficking with The Immigrant Council of Ireland stated: “Almost without exception the women we support who have been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation speak of entering prostitution as young teenage girls.
“They are in complete isolation, under constant pressure from criminal bosses. This leads to taking risks with their personal and sexual health and long term trauma. We call for much-needed action to stop the pimps and traffickers, and to end the demand for suffering.”