Fears grow over sex slave trade

Report by NATALIE BOWYER WOMEN as young as 16 are being tricked from their homeland, sold as sex slaves and forced into prostitution in Cambridgeshire. The county s police force has already rescued one 16-year-old from a life as a sex slave, and has now

Report by NATALIE BOWYER

WOMEN as young as 16 are being tricked from their homeland, sold as sex slaves and forced into prostitution in Cambridgeshire.

The county's police force has already rescued one 16-year-old from a life as a sex slave, and has now launched a campaign to wipe out the human sex trafficking trade in Cambridgeshire.

On Monday - at the public launch of Operation Radium - officers told how the teenager had been sold for as little as £1,000. She and five others have since been rescued from the lives they were forced to endure, but Operation Radium is now looking for public help to halt the horrors.

Speaking at police headquarters in Hinchingbrooke, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Fullwood, head of the serious and organised crime department, said: "Intelligence already tells us just how widespread this trade is and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"The focus of this operation is not to target sex workers, which is perhaps one of the oldest trades in history. This operation is clearly focused on rescuing trafficked victims of sexual exploitation and disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups responsible."

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Although police are unclear how many young women have been lured to Cambridgeshire from Eastern Europe, the Far East and Africa under false pretences, they believe the people behind the trafficking are operating in the county or have local connections.

There are estimated to be around 50 to 100 brothels in Cambridgeshire. Nearly 60 have been identified by police - two in Huntingdon, and another in South Cambridgeshire, but the majority in Peterborough. Covert visits have taken place at 41 of these.

However, the police are now turning to the public for help finding other brothels so they can stamp out sex-trafficking.

"We know that many brothels operate under the guise of other businesses, or they may just be ordinary-looking homes in quiet residential neighbourhoods," said DCI Fullwood. "This is where the public can be our eyes and ears. People see and hear things in the streets where they live.

"A brothel in any community, obvious or not, is a magnet for those involved in other crimes such as robbery and drugs dealing. With the public's help we hope to shut the sex prisons down."

Of the six victims rescued by police, one was from Ugandan and was brought to the UK aged 16 and forced to work as a prostitute. When she became pregnant, she was taken to Peterborough and dumped.

Another woman, a 30-year-old mother of two from the Czech Republic was beaten and raped up to 25 times a day.

A 21-year-old woman from Slovakia was purchased for £1,000 by a Middle Eastern man before being taken to a brothel in Peterborough. She was repeatedly beaten and forced to have sex.

DCI Fullwood added: "Women are demeaned and often beaten or starved. Many are auctioned to the highest bidders and used until they are no longer regarded as desirable when they are discarded without means of supporting themselves.

"This trade is organised, dangerous and growing at an alarming rate. Make no mistake this is organised crime at its highest level with clear links to kidnapping, crimes of violence, people trafficking and serious sexual offences. For organised crime groups this is maximum profit with minimum risks involved. This is an evil and disgusting business."

So far 20 people have been arrested, but putting an end to sex-trafficking is not going to be an easy task.

"By its very nature, this is going to be a difficult trade to end," said DCI Fullwood. "Even those victims who are not imprisoned are too frightened of retribution to come and seek help."

He added: "This is not a Cambridgeshire phenomenon and is going on in other parts of the UK. We have taken the proactive position and asked the difficult questions. We have looked where others may have chosen not to, as out ultimate aim to create a safer place for our communities.

"I would even urge those who use the [prostitution] trade for their own satisfaction to have the compassion to report situations where they can see young girls being forced into providing services."

Posters and information cards urging communities to report suspicious behaviour are to be distributed across Cambridgeshire along with helpline cards for victims.

Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children, said: "It is a tragedy that in the same year we celebrate the 200 anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, we still have slavery on our doorsteps.

"It is a barbaric practice and it has no place in civilised society. I commend the local police in their efforts to stamp out this awful trade."

INFORMATION: Anyone wanting to report human trafficking can contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0845 4564564 or Cambridgeshire Police on 0845 4564564.

Trafficking facts

- Trafficking criminals can make anything between £1,000 and £2,000 a day by exploiting victims.

- Police investigations show traffickers controlling just two victims would make from £1,000 to £2,000 a week.

- Victims have been bought for anything between £1,000 to £5,000.

- Trafficking carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years and can include the confiscation of personal possessions including cars and property.

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