Prostitution offences have skyrocketed on Leeside in recent years.

Prostitution offences soaring in Cork

There has been a massive increase in 'prostitution offences' recorded in Cork over the past five and a half years.

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), just two such offences were recorded across Cork city and county in all of 2018, while 29 have already been recorded in the first half of 2023. This represents an increase of 1,350%.

This year’s figures have already surpassed all of last year which saw 21 prostitution offences recorded in Cork. There were nine incidents recorded in 2019, six in 2020, and five in 2021.

Gardaí confirmed the CSO figures but said they could not further elaborate on the nature of the different offences that fall under 'prostitution offences'.

According to Linda Kavanagh of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), the dramatic increase in numbers could be the result of workers being caught in a legal net surrounding brothel keeping.

She said new laws around prostitution adopted in 2017 have imposed bigger fines and a jail sentence for those found guilty of brothel keeping where exploitation and profit are involved.

However, Ms Kavanagh says she feels gardaí are not applying the law fairly.

“It's called brothel keeping, but it's really when more than one sex worker is in a place,” she told the Cork Independent.

“They (gardaí) don’t differentiate between whether there’s exploitation happening or whether it’s just two sex workers just sharing an apartment.

“It tends to be young migrant women that are convicted,” added Ms Kavanagh.

In 2019, Romanian sex workers Adrina Podaru and Ana Tomascu had their home in Kildare raided, resulting in them both being jailed for nine months despite telling the judge they had been sharing the apartment for safety reasons. Ms Podaru was pregnant at the time of her arrest. No significant sum of money was found during the raid.

Ms Kavanagh continued: “It was acknowledged by the judge that there was no exploitation happening.

“It means that people who are in sex work, who are not trafficked, who are not exploited, are being caught in this net.”


The United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence will run from 25 November until 10 December this year.

Ms Kavanagh said that every year during this time gardaí carry out welfare checks on sex workers by posing as clients, which can sometimes result in evictions and has left many workers “terrorised”.

“They are basically brothel raids under another name,” explained Ms Kavanagh.

“Gardaí pretend to be clients and they book in to see a sex worker and they ask them about their welfare, so they lie to sex workers and then they wonder why sex workers don’t trust them.

“Less than 1% of sex workers go to the gardaí when they are a victim of crime,” she said.

Last November the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) conducted intelligence led operations across 16 garda divisions including Cork.

During the course of the operation 46 people were identified as having allegedly purchased sexual services and 112 sex workers were offered welfare advice.

The operation also resulted in five search warrants being executed and the seizure of €3,000 and $500 from a man suspected of being involved in organised prostitution.

New legislation

In 2017, Ireland adopted the ‘Nordic Model’ which criminalises the purchase of sex rather than the selling of sex, a move the government said was designed to protect sex workers and reduce sex trafficking.

However, the changes were met with fierce resistance from sex workers and allied organisations in Ireland who believe that client criminalisation would in fact increase the risk involved for sex workers.

Ms Kavanagh said the law means that clients must now prioritise their own safety over that of the sex worker as it is now the client who is breaking the law.

“The law is really a tool for people who want to prohibit sex work altogether,” said Ms Kavanagh.

“It’s failing to eradicate trafficking; it’s failing to reduce the number of people in sex work. You can see from the two or three convictions since 2017 a total failing on those terms. Clients are not being arrested,” she added.

Going forward, Ms Kavanagh said the future looks bleak for sex workers in Ireland and around the world, describing the recent review of legislation as a “shambles”.

She said: “Now (Minister for Justice) Helen McEntee has said she wants to tack on the sex-for-rent laws which was absolutely not what this review was for, so we’re really frustrated, and it just feels we’re not progressing in any way.”

The SWAI is calling for the full decriminalisation of sex work in Ireland after Belgium became the first European country to do so last year.

“That is what we want. That’s a first step but it’s not the only step,” said Ms Kavanagh.