London ~~ Thursday July 3, 2008
18,000 women and children trafficked into UK sex tradeBy Cahal Milmo and Nigel Morris
Up to 18,000 females, including girls as young as 14, are working in brothels across Britain after being smuggled into the country to meet the booming demand for prostitutes. Police, unveiling the results of the largest ever crackdown on people smuggling yesterday, revealed that nearly five times more women than previously thought are working under duress in massage parlours and suburban homes.
Operation Pentameter 2, a six-month campaign by police forces across the country, resulted in the release of 154 women and 13 girls put to work as part of a lucrative trade dominated by organised crime gangs, which increasingly co-operate via the internet to maximise earnings from their victims.
The campaign, which saw the arrest of 528 suspected traffickers and the closure of 822 brothels and premises being used to sell sexual services, also revealed an increasing use of young British women, who are trafficked within the UK after being groomed by older men who lure them to towns away from their homes. The Home Office highlighted one recent case in Sheffield where 33 victims had been recruited by men in public places and taken away for sexual exploitation.
Most victims are foreign, with least 85 per cent of the women working as prostitutes coming from countries including Brazil, China, Lithuania and Thailand. Many victims are lured to Britain with false promises of work in bars or nightclubs only to be sold for up to £5,000, often at airports or service stations, to pimps and brothel-keepers. The women are then set quotas of the number of men they must have sex with each week, working for little or nothing under threat of violence against their families.
Tim Brain, the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, whose force co-ordinated Pentameter 2, said that police forces were becoming more effective in tracing prostitution networks and seizing their assets, but admitted that they remained a significant problem. The first phase of Pentameter in 2006 rescued 88 victims and made 232 arrests.
The Government insisted that the success of the campaign, which has resulted in 24 convictions, was evidence of its determination to hinder the work of the gangs behind sex trafficking. Of the 167 women and teenagers released, all but five were being used as prostitutes. The rest, of whom three were children, had been sold as domestic slaves.
Mr Brain also revealed that a large number of residential properties were being used to sell sex (of the 822 premises raided, nearly 600 were private homes). "In some of the cases, neighbours have not suspected any kind of unusual activity," he said.
Prostitution and people-trafficking is now the third most lucrative black-market trade in the world after gun-running and drugs-smuggling. It is being driven by growing demand for prostitutes in the UK, with websites promoting sex flourishing and local newspapers carrying advertisements for prostitutes. Gangs often share the income from internet "bookings".
Ministers also said children were being trafficked into Britain to grow cannabis or to join street crime gangs. There are plans for a further crackdown on fraudsters who smuggle children to make bogus welfare claims.
Olena, 23, escaped last year from a brothel in Sheffield:
"I come from a very poor area of Ukraine. I went to Moldova with a friend who said he could help me get work, but he sold me to some Albanians. They locked me in their house, raped me and beat me regularly. I was taken to the UK, to a massage parlour in Sheffield, where I was forced to see up to 15 clients a day but could not keep any of the money. The men visited my mother and told her that if I returned home they would kill me."
Sex trafficking in numbers
- 6,000-18,000 Trafficked women are thought to work as prostitutes in Britain
- 167 Victims identified in a police operation to free them
- 13 Victims aged between 14 and 17
- £500,000 Amount seized in brothel raids
- 500,000 Number of women trafficked into the EU each year
London ~~ Thursday July 3, 2008, Page 4
British-born teenagers being trafficked for sexual exploitation within UK, police say
- · Older men 'grooming' girls as young as 12
- · 33 victims in single case in Sheffield, officers fear
By Rachel Williams
Teenage girls born in Britain are being trafficked for sexual exploitation within the UK, police said yesterday, adding that children are being "groomed" by men acting as boyfriends who carry out the abuse and then take the youngsters to other towns for further exploitation.
Officers fear that as many as 33 girls between the ages of 12 and 15 could have been involved in a case uncovered in Sheffield last year. Only one, a 15-year-old, was willing to give evidence in court, but following that a 23-year-old man was jailed for 10 years for serious sexual offences which included rape of a child. Five other men faced deportation procedures.
The victims were living in local authority care or with their families. Officers at the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) said they had heard reports of girls as young as 12 being forced to perform sexual acts up to 20 times a night.
The Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said it was difficult to establish the scale of the internal trafficking. "It is something that increasingly people are raising and we are trying to get a better understanding of what exactly is taking place. People groom them, get their trust and then betray that trust."
Police have adopted terms like "lover boy" to describe the way older men at first act like an indulgent boyfriend, showering the young girls with drugs and gifts including money and jewellery.
According to the UKHTC, the girls are encouraged to "go missing" from home and to spend more and more time with their "boyfriends", who eventually start controlling them with threats and violence.
At this stage the children will be taken to other locations in the UK, introduced to other groups of men and asked by the boyfriend to give the others sexual favours, because they are his "friends". Terrified and dominated by the boyfriend, they feel unable to refuse. Some victims have described being subjected to extreme violence, including rape, while others have alleged they were used to transport and deal in drugs.
The details on internal trafficking emerged as the government revealed the biggest crackdown yet on traffickers bringing people into the UK to work in the sex industry. Latest estimates by police suggest there could be as many 18,000 trafficking victims being forced to work as prostitutes in the UK.
About 167 victims, including 13 children aged between 14 and 17, were rescued across Britain and Ireland, and 528 suspected traffickers were arrested during the six months of Operation Pentameter 2, which ended earlier this year.
The majority of the victims came from China and south-east Asia, with a smaller number from eastern Europe. Three children were found who had been trafficked for forced labour. More than £500,000 in cash has been recovered from those arrested, and court orders are in place to keep further criminal assets worth more than £3m.
So far more than 80 people have been charged with various offences and there have been 24 convictions, although only two people have been found guilty of human trafficking.
New measures to tackle the problem of trafficked children being forced into criminal activities, including working in cannabis farms and being brought into Britain to make fraudulent welfare claims, have been added to the government's action plan.
Victims of trafficking are also to be granted a 45-day period of grace after their rescue, even if they are in the country illegally. In many cases the victims will get a one-year temporary residency permit. The Home Office had already pledged to ratify a European agreement to give a period of 30 days' grace.
Coaker also admitted the authorities were struggling to combat the problem of children disappearing after being rescued from the hands of suspected traffickers. The Guardian revealed this year that more than 400 foreign children, many suspected of being trafficked into the sex or drug trade, had gone missing from local authority care.
Some youngsters go to extraordinary lengths to get away from the people trying to protect them, having been duped into believing they were escorted into the country in their best interests, Coaker said. "This is a huge issue, to support them and keep them safe," he said. "Short of locking them up in protective custody, we're struggling. We're looking to see what we can do to keep children safer."
Gloucestershire's chief constable, Tim Brain, who coordinated Pentameter 2, said the investigation had revealed a large number of brothels in ordinary suburban flats and houses. Of more than 800 premises visited, nearly 600 were residential, while 157 were massage parlours, saunas and nail bars.
"It is likely that in future police investigations will have to consider all kinds of premises," Brain said.
The residential locations were "very, very ordinary". He added: "In some of the cases the neighbours who live nearby have not actually suspected any kind of unusual activity."
The first phase of Pentameter, in 2006, rescued 88 victims and made 232 arrests. Brain said: "The increase in arrests is good news in terms of police and partner agency effectiveness, but it does mean that we still have an insidious problem in the heart of our society."
Coaker said there was no evidence to suggest trafficking to Britain was increasing. Although the number of arrests and victims found in the latest operation had risen, the period of the operation was twice as long.
London ~~ Thursday July 3, 2008
A thriving sex industry is a magnet for human traffickers
Police raids can rescue some victims, but for long-term results the government must criminalise the buyers of sexual services
By Rahila Gupta
The news that a police crackdown on human trafficking netted 13 children between the ages of 14 and 17, shocking as it is, comes as no surprise to those working in the field. Although the exact number of women working in prostitution is by definition unknowable, one of the most commonly accepted statistics is that there are 80,000 women of which 70% were recruited before the age of 18 (see Paying the Price, Home Office, 2004). If you are considered to be a minor until the age of 18 under British law, and if trafficking is defined as "coercion or deceit", then it is possible to conclude that 56,000 young women or children are being trafficked into the sex industry. Most of these will not be British born, as some police estimates put numbers of women trafficked from abroad at 85% of the total.
While the rescue of even one child is to be welcomed, raids and operations like these have greater significance in leading to public pressure to bring about changes in policy and perhaps some deterrent effect on traffickers – but they do not make a substantial dent in numbers rescued. The tragedy is that many of those rescued seem to slip through the net yet again; social services and other agencies do not appear to be well resourced enough to keep hold of them.
There are many, often interconnected, issues that make local women vulnerable to traffickers in the first place: physical or sexual abuse at home; homelessness; being in care; and drug addiction. These are huge systemic issues that need tackling in the long term.
However, a short cut is available, if only the government were prepared to take it: tackle demand by criminalising the buyers of sexual services. Ironically the government is prepared to be more robust in tackling demand for forced labour in areas such as catering, cleaning or agriculture. Of the 13 children rescued, three had been trafficked for forced labour. As the law now stands, their employers could be fined and even jailed for not checking on their immigration status, but the buyers of sexual services from the other 10 would go scot-free.
The government's action plan on trafficking limply proposes to "target men who might use massage parlours, saunas or other kinds of brothel, through men's magazines, websites or other targeted media using advertisements which raise awareness of trafficking for sexual exploitation and warn of the risks involved." This is a risible response. On many internet chatrooms men exchange salacious tips about their sexual experiences with prostitutes. The younger they are or the more compliant they are because they have been trafficked, the more attractive they are to these men. Apparently the number of men who now pay for sex has doubled to nearly one in 10 since the 1990s.
The government needs to grasp the nettle and introduce legislation to make the buying of sex a criminal offence. Where this has been done, for example in Sweden, there is evidence that there has been a substantial reduction in women trafficked to those countries. A thriving sex industry is a magnet for traffickers, both national and international, and needs to be kicked where it hurts.