Britain: Trafficking gangs kidnap & sell women into prostitution, physical batterings, health peril
London ~~ Sunday 26 August 2007
Trafficked women auctioned in pubs and locked up in brothelsJo Revill, Whitehall editor
A major police operation to crack down on the trafficking of women has discovered that some victims are being 'sold' at auctions in pubs before they are forced to work in brothels.
In the largest operation of its kind, police in Cambridgeshire have raided 73 suspected brothels in the past few months. They have already rescued seven women, some with serious injuries sustained as they tried to escape.
The scale of the abuse has horrified the officers and other agencies working with them, who have found women being forced to work in the sex trade in houses in villages as well as city centres, being unable to go out and having sex with up to 60 men a day, earning thousands of pounds for the gangs.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Fullwood, leading the investigation, said: 'We have seen organised crime moving away from firearms and drugs into sex trafficking. It's a lucrative area for these gangs, and the women they get hold of can find it very, very hard to escape.'
Police say that in the auctions a woman is brought into the pub with a minder. She is seen by members of different gangs who are then invited to bid for her. The amount they pay in some cases is as little as £1,000.
So far, 24 people have been arrested during Operation Radium, most on suspicion of immigration offences, and all have been bailed. No charges have yet been brought as a result of the operation, which is still gathering intelligence.
Many of the women who are trafficked into Britain each year come from eastern Europe, Africa and the Far East, tempted by the prospect of a better life and well-paid jobs. But on arrival their identity documents are taken, and they are often kept captive in appalling conditions.
So far, seven women have been rescued. Others have fled, fearing arrest even though they are innocent.
Fullwood, head of Cambridgeshire's serious and organised crime unit, said: 'Many brothels operate under the guise of other businesses. They may be just ordinary-looking homes in quiet neighbourhoods.' He has appealed for men who have used brothels to report places where they think women are prisoners.
Last week police opened their files to reveal detailed personal accounts from some of the victims. Three of them, two back in their home countries and a third being cared for in a hostel, spoke about their beatings, having their identities stolen and being kept in brothels with locked doors and windows.
One described being beaten so hard that she had a broken arm for which she was not allowed medical attention. Another told of being forced to have unprotected sex with up to 25 clients a day. She was refused a testing kit when she thought she might be pregnant, and threatened by security guards with a samurai sword and a baseball bat.
Tory MP Shailesh Vara, joint vice-chair of the Commons all-party group on trafficking women and children, said: 'It is fantastic that the police have mounted such an operation to try to uncover what's happening. What they have found so far is really alarming. It's becoming clear now that many women are kidnapped and held against their will in houses right across Britain, and yet are almost invisible to the rest of us.
Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire, added: 'The idea that some women are auctioned off in pubs like animals is disgusting. Far more must be done to stop this trade. Britain must ratify the United Nations convention on human trafficking, so international measures can be taken to stop these gangs.'