Research findings

Exiting prostitution

Pathways to Exit: A Study of Women’s Journeys Out of Prostitution and the Response to their Complex Support Needs

Funded by Community Foundation Ireland, this study is the result of a unique research partnership between SERP researchers and Ruhama service users and staff to explore in greater depth what exiting (leaving) prostitution entails, both for women embarking on this journey, and for those professionals who support them along the way. The study aimed to provide an enhanced, survivor-informed and evidence-based understanding of women’s ‘exiting journeys’ and pathways, the barriers they face and the multifaceted supports they require to achieve a sustainable exit.

The research revealed the harms and traumatic consequences of sexual exploitation which result in women having multiple and complex support needs that require a carefully structured, multilayered response. Pathways to Exit documents the model of practice employed by Ruhama in responding to these complex needs. The role of a wide range of supports, including peer support, in empowering women to recover from the trauma of sexual exploitation, build new lives and strengthen their voice in matters that affect them was a focus of the study. Based on the evidence gathered, a range of recommendations are made to inform both policy and practice responses to the provision of exiting supports for women, in line with the delivery of plans under the Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which recognises prostitution and sex trafficking as forms of gender-based violence. Read the full report here and access the summary briefing here.

Children and young people

Protecting Against Predators: A Scoping Study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Young People in Ireland

Funded by Community Foundation Ireland, this research study scopes the issue of the sexual exploitation of children and young people in Ireland. The study draws on the international literature as well as practice-based evidence and interviews with experts who have diverse experience of working with, and representing, children and young people across a variety of sectors. Findings reveal insights into the nature of the targeting of vulnerable young people across the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The study makes recommendations regarding the urgent policy and practice responses required. Read the full report here and the summary here.

Gender equality

Gender equality and sexual consent in the context of commercial sexual exploitation

Funded by the Irish Research Council, New Foundations 2020 (Strand 1a: Engaging civic society), this project was a collaborative initiative between civil society and academia. It brought together Ireland’s largest representative organisation for women, the National Women’s Council (NWC), and the SERP research team to explore commercial sexual exploitation, with a view to building evidence to strengthen the advocacy goals of NWC and its members on this critical issue. Specifically, the study aimed to develop a theoretical framework on prostitution with NWC which is compatible with their goal of achieving gender equality, respects individual choice and sexual autonomy, and also recognises how individuals are constrained in their choices by structural, socio-economic and cultural forces. In consultation with NWC members, and directly informed by their views and experiences, this study aimed to develop a critical understanding of consent within the prostitution contract and whether the buying of sexual access to some women’s bodies undermines the movement for meaningful sexual consent for all. Read the full report here.


Confronting the Harm: Documenting the prostitution experiences and impacts on health and wellbeing of women accessing the Health Service Executive Women’s Health Service

This study was commissioned by the National Social Inclusion Office of the Health Service Executive (HSE), in recognition of the need to strengthen the evidence base on the health impacts of prostitution and the supports that women require, given the dearth of research in this area. The overall aim of the study is to provide empirical data on the impact of prostitution on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health.  The study was undertaken by SERP in collaboration with the HSE’s Women’s Health Service – a free sexual health service for women currently involved in prostitution.

This comprehensive study explores the profile of women in the Irish sex trade, their entry routes into prostitution, and their experiences within it.  It demonstrates the wide-ranging health impacts of sexual exploitation, with a particular focus on sexual, reproductive and mental health, and highlights the specialist supports that women in prostitution require.  The research launch is supported by Community Foundation Ireland.  Read the full report here and SERP’s briefing document here.

Watch the Confronting the Harm launch event


Shifting the Burden of Criminality: An analysis of the Irish sex trade in the context of prostitution law reform

This study provides empirical data on the commercial sex trade in Ireland in the context of the current laws on prostitution. The research was funded by the Department of Justice under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2018, with the intention of contributing to the evidence base to inform the 2020 review of Part 4 of the  Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017

This comprehensive study explores the profile of women in the Irish sex trade, their entry routes into prostitution, the demand of sex buyers, the nature and extent of organised criminality and violence within the trade, and criminal justice responses. Read the full report here and the Executive summary here.

Watch the webinar launching  Shifting the Burden of Criminality


Exploitation ‘as usual’: Emerging evidence on the impact of Covid-19 on Ireland’s sex trade

With the support of Community Foundation Ireland, the aim of this study is to formally and rigorously document the impact that Covid-19 was and is having on Ireland’s sex trade at this unprecedented time in our history. It was designed to enhance understanding of how the sex trade responded to the pandemic, and examine the implications both of the crisis itself, and the way the trade adapted to it, for sex buyers, women in prostitution and the services that support them. The study also contributes to the wider evidence base on the continuing operation of the commercial sex trade in Ireland and highlights some of the measures required to tackle, overcome and prevent sexual exploitation in this context in the future.

Read the full report here.

Author Ruth Breslin discusses some of the findings at this event:
Prostitution under Covid-19: Research presentation and panel discussion

Watch SERP’s first webinar: Sexual exploitation in the shadow of Covid-19: Experiences from the frontline