Lap dancing clubs and strip bars inevitably result in the rise of human trafficking, a conference on the issue heard yesterday.
And those who start out working in the legal end of the sex trade -- such as lap dancers -- often end up selling their bodies for sex, Gerardine Rowley of Ruhama, the organisation that works with women caught up in prostitution, told the public meeting in Kilkenny city yesterday.
She said women, often in desperate financial situations, were groomed to become sex workers.
"This industry is about the grooming and normalising of prostitution.
"The competitive element of lap dancing, where one girl has to give a better dance than the next, means boundaries are lowered and women find themselves sliding into prostitution."
Ms Rowley said few people saw the link between trafficking and sex clubs and if they were more aware, it would discourage their use.
Said Ms Rowley: "I would support any group or individual who protests outside these clubs.
"This is a serious issue. Don't be afraid to say 'we don't want this'."
She said the sex industry objectifies women, has been shown to have links to organised crime and results in a heightened risk of sexual assaults.
The conference, Human Trafficking and the Sex Industry, was organised by the city's Mayor, Marie Fitzpatrick, and Labour Women, the women's section of the Labour Party.
It was attended by the party's former leader, Pat Rabbitte, as well as Labour Women chair Sinead Ni Chulachain.
Mr Rabbitte said he welcomed the upcoming Human Trafficking Bill, which is currently before the Dail and will deal with the criminalisation of those involved in it.
But he said the Bill fails to address the protection of those who are victims of human trafficking and, as a result, it will mean few victims come forward as they will fear deportation and worry about their security.
"The Government has said it will deal with that aspect in the Immigration Bill, but we feel trafficking of young women for the purpose of exploitation is an entirely separate issue to immigration," he said.