HSE & UCD: 'All Consuming' nature of prostitution revealed in 'Confronting the Harm Report'

This item has expired, and will soon be unavailable for viewing

‘All consuming’ nature of prostitution and its detrimental sexual health impacts highlighted by service users of HSE frontline service
Isolation, mental health issues and violence also revealed by women in prostitution
Study released by HSE Women’s Health Service and Sexual Exploitation Research Programme (SERP), UCD

The serious, detrimental health effects of prostitution have been highlighted by women attending a frontline HSE health service caring for women in prostitution in Dublin.

A two-year study of 144 service users of the Women’s Health Service shows that for most, prostitution is ‘all-consuming’, dominating every aspect of their lives.

Data and interviews with users of the Women’s Health Service (WHS) at the HSE, which was established in 1991, form the basis of a new study by the Sexual Exploitation and Research Programme (SERP) at UCD – ‘Confronting the Harm’.

The study reveals 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. This includes demands for oral, vaginal and anal sex without a condom and the practice of stealthing (removal of a condom during intercourse without the woman’s consent).

Women’s mental health and wellbeing are also negatively impacted, with fears, anxiety, coping difficulties, stress and depression common features in the lives of women in the sex trade.

Women further disclosed the emotionally harmful realities of prostitution – 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 – and the cumulative negative effects these experiences have on their own sexual lives, identities, intimate relationships and ability to trust.

Other key findings include:

  • 94% of those who access the service are migrant women – many speak limited English and have an insecure immigration status or are undocumentedOver half the sample first entered prostitution between the ages of 16 and 24
  • 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
  • 79% were experiencing the most common of these issues – vaginal discomfort, abnormal discharge, abnormal odour, candida, bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections – typically on multiple occasions
  • HPV and chlamydia are the most common STIs detected in the sample
  • Women report experiencing loneliness, isolation and lack of support. They have no friends and in many cases no family in the country
  • Women are experiencing 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 WHS more than once expressed a desire to exit (leave) prostitution and/or described their future plans outside of prostitution, but many remain trapped within in the sex trade
  • Only 12 of the women (8.3%) have a GP and only 3 a medical card. The vast majority are solely dependent on the Dublin-based Women’s Health Service.

‘Confronting the Harm’ draws on the testimonies and direct experiences of the women accessing WHS. Based on these, recommendations are made to ensure the protection of their sexual and mental health and wellbeing. Exit pathways are strongly recommended for those wanting to leave the grip of prostitution.

Recommendations include:

  • The continued need for the dedicated, specialist health service for women in prostitution provided by the HSE’s WHS is clear and should be extended beyond Dublin
  • Sexual healthcare must be complemented by trauma-informed mental health and wellbeing supports, to counteract the grave mental health impacts of prostitution
  • Holistic exiting supports are needed for this vulnerable and isolated group of women whose lives have been completely taken over by prostitution, supporting them to recover from sexual exploitation and rebuild new lives beyond the sex trade
  • Improved identification and support is required for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation
  • The development of other forms of support, in particular peer support, is needed to combat the overwhelming isolation felt by women in prostitution.

Study co-author, Ruth Breslin of SERP said: “More than any other research into Irish prostitution we have brought you the voices of the women, their lived experiences, their testimonies. As you read each within the study the only conclusion that can be drawn is the grave harm that prostitution is causing to the health and wellbeing of women and girls. They may present at the Women’s Health Service because of fear of STIs or other concerns, but as their stories unfold, we can see that these are mostly young lives which have been taken over or swamped by the sex trade – prostitution is all-consuming for them. Every testimony needs to be read by policymakers who wish to offer support and hope to these women, and the many others trapped in prostitution in our communities.

Attachment Size
Confronting the Harm 1.11 MB

General Info

Date Entered/Updated
16th Nov, 2021
Expiry Date
26th Nov, 2021