The number of prostitution offences reported in Cork rose steeply in 2023.

Prostitution yet to return to pre-pandemic levels in Cork

A sharp rise in prostitution offences in Cork may be linked with a number of reasons including poverty and coercion, an expert has said.

There were 29 prostitutions offences recorded across Cork city and county in the first half of 2023 according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), already surpassing the 21 offences reported in all of 2022.

However, offences recorded before and during the pandemic are significantly lower, with just two offences in all of 2018, nine in 2019, six in 2020, and five in 2021.

Barbara Condon, CEO of Irish NGO Ruhama, who work with women affected by prostitution, said the sharp increase between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic numbers in Cork could be due to a range of different factors.

“Cork has the second highest number of women advertised online after Dublin, so a higher number of reported prostitution offences in Cork could be expected comparatively,” Ms Condon told the Cork Independent.

She added: “The figures also indicate lower numbers during the pandemic period in 2020 and 2021 and this has risen sharply since, which would correlate with Ruhama’s work with women who reported that there was a significant effect on the sex trade during the pandemic.”

Since the end of the pandemic, numbers of individuals presenting to Ruhama have continued to climb rather than returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Women in Ireland in vulnerable circumstances are being targeted and lured into the sex trade by coercion, false pretences, deceit, threats, and violence, Ms Condon said.

She continued: “Violence is often used to control women or ensure that they bend to their will.

“Poverty and coercion are two of the main drivers into prostitution, but it is usually the pimps, traffickers, and organisers of prostitution who are profiting from the women they exploit.”

According to Ruhama, it is difficult to ascertain the true number of people trafficked for sexual exploitation in Ireland as the current system makes it “incredibly difficult to identify victims” of trafficking. The NGO says it is estimated the numbers are much higher than official statistics.

“It is a very hidden crime, victims are moved from county to county staying in rental rooms for short periods of time, evading detection,” said Ms Condon.

“The sex trade is a multi-billion-euro business run primarily by organised crime networks that exploit the poorest and most marginalised women and girls in our society.

“Big profits can be made when you sell a human being again and again and again. Outlawing the purchase of sex aims to curb demand from men who want to pay for sexual access to often very vulnerable women and girls.

“We need to continue to work towards zero tolerance to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence to protect women and girls in Ireland,” Ms Condon concluded.

For free, confidential support, free text REACH 50100 or call 01-8360292