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A case for a health promotion framework: the psychosocial experiences of female, migrant sex workers in Ireland

Leigh-Ann Sweeney (Health Promotion Research Centre, School of Medicine and Health Science, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland)
Sharron FitzGerald (Institute for Sociology, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 27 October 2017

Issue publication date: 5 December 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine the barriers preventing women in prostitution from accessing co-ordinated health services in the Republic of Ireland. By examining the experiences of migrant women engaged in prostitution, the research contributes to knowledge pertaining to the psychosocial experiences of female sex workers’ access to healthcare.


The study interviewed migrant women across Ireland, using a biographical narrative approach and an adapted voice-centred relational model of analysis to determine the necessity for a health promotion strategy for this demographic.


The findings indicate migrant women work primarily indoors, hold precarious legal status and are in Ireland due to processes of globalisation, migration and economic necessity. The women discussed their entry into prostitution and their experiences within prostitution in the context of their psychosocial experiences.

Research limitations/implications

While the findings are from a small qualitative sample confined to the Republic of Ireland, it is the first study to prioritise migrant sex workers’ psychosocial experiences in Ireland.

Practical implications

The research concludes education and service development that respects the various social determinants impacting women in prostitution is missing but remains necessary in Ireland. It finds a gendered reform of policies using an ecological framework for health that can address issues of poverty, migration and the global trends of the sex industry.

Social implications

This means a national review of current services in health, social work and community development fields is timely.


This paper gives insight into the lives of migrant women involved in the sex industry and can make an important contribution to future research directions and practice in Irish and European prostitution contexts.



This work was supported by the National University of Irelands Galway PhD Fellowship fund. The authors would like to acknowledge the Discipline of Health Promotion, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), where Leigh-Ann Sweeney is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Leigh-Ann Sweeney acknowledges Dr Sharron A. FitzGerald from Institute for Sociology Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany for her co-authorship and expertize in the area of migration. The authors would like to thank all the participants in the study who have given ‘a voice’, to foreign nationals working in the sex trade in Ireland.


Sweeney, L.-A. and FitzGerald, S. (2017), "A case for a health promotion framework: the psychosocial experiences of female, migrant sex workers in Ireland", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 419-431.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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