Women from at least 32 countries working as prostitutes in Ireland
Women from at least 32 countries were working in the sex trade in Ireland last year, a new report has found.
Ruhama, an outreach support organisation for victims of prostitution and sex trafficking, revealed that a record 258 women accessed its services in 2012.
Chief executive Sarah Benson said that while the organisation works with significant numbers of Irish women, the majority of those in the indoor sex trade were migrants.
"This small island remains a destination for traffickers, pimps and procurers from all corners of the globe," Ms Benson said.
"The bulk of the prostitution in Ireland is connected with organised criminality.
"For the women and girls we work with - far from home, isolated and often highly controlled or literally coerced through trafficking - it is a dangerous and damaging experience."
Ms Benson said it is beyond doubt that prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation are "inextricably linked".
Ruhama had face-to-face contact with 170 women over the course of 908 different encounters, 13,000 telephone calls and 5,200 text messages.
Its annual report for 2012 also revealed that its outreach van, which engages with women in street prostitution, went out on 108 nights and spent a total 413 hours working with some 62 women.
It also gave assistance to 26 women who did not engage in full casework.
The report revealed an increase in the number of women accessing Ruhama's education and development services - rising by 14% from 2011 to 88 women in 2012.
Ms Benson said: "This testifies to the fact that the majority of women involved in prostitution want to exit the life but, to do so, need the necessary supports and assistance to create real alternatives, and overcome the systemic barriers that often hold women trapped in the sex trade."
She added that while Ruhama supported a record number of women in 2012, she was concerned that its work merely reflects "the tip of the iceberg" in overall need.
Ms Benson said a major critical focus needs to be on prevention and legislation and policing policy should target traffickers, pimps and procurers, as opposed to those forced into prostitution.
"Policies towards those in prostitution must be compassionate and supportive, not punitive," Ms Benson said.
"We have to remember that for those women and girls - and indeed the smaller number of boys and men in prostitution - once trapped in the trade, exit and recovery can be exceedingly difficult.
"This is particularly the case for those who find themselves far from home, have uncertain legal status and are without family or friends or even the language.
"We need to prioritise policies that prevent their exploitation in the first place, such as hitting out at the demand of the sex buyer which fuels this trade in human beings."