Rescue for sex slaves
10:34 22 April 2008
Plucked from their families, promised a better life then duped into prostitution and traded like cattle - that is the stark reality of women forced to be sex slaves on our doorstep.
The shocking extent of human trafficking in Norfolk emerged last night after an international vice ring was tracked through brothels in Norwich, King's Lynn, Yarmouth and some rural addresses.
A total of 26 women have been rescued from dens across the county as part of a massive operation to target the unscrupulous gangs which pay no regard to the lives they ruin.
Raids on 30 suspected brothels and massage parlours showed local pimps were linked to a major organised criminal network touting girls for sale over the internet.
A six-month investigation reached its culmination at the weekend when the force joined up with the Metropolitan and Surrey police to crack the London hub from which the gang orchestrated their human trade.
Det Chf Insp Christine Wilson, who led the Norfolk operation, said: “Human trafficking is simply modern day slavery and it is happening in this county.
“Many of these girls are tricked into leaving their home countries with the promise of a better life but then find themselves trapped.
“The ringleaders break the women down and dehumanise them. Often they are asked to service ten men a day and there is no limit to the degrading acts they are forced to carry out. They are like packets of meat picked off the supermarket shelf.
“If they refuse to do as they are told they become surplus to requirements and the consequences of that are often fatal.”
The victims discovered were brought to Norfolk from Thailand, Malaysia, Lithuania, Moldova, Eritrea and Poland. The Eastern European girls had no idea they were destined for the sex trade. Although the girls from Asia may have known they were to work as prostitutes, they did not know they were entering a way of life virtually impossible to escape.
After arriving on our shores they found themselves laden with debts of up to £25,000 for travel and board. They were then forced to work to pay off the crippling amounts and sold between traffickers like disposable commodities.
“This debt just continues to grow and they can never hope to pay it off,” Ms Wilson said. “Even if they do succeed in repaying the money, by that time they are so damaged that they can't even contemplate another way of life.
“These people operate covertly and are inextricably linked to the drugs trade. We are not dealing with nice people. These are criminals who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of profit.”
All of the women rescued are receiving help to overcome their ordeals. However, Ms Wilson likened their state to Stockholm Syndrome - a condition often experienced by hostages who show compassion for their captors.
“It can take four years before the victims are able to integrate with normal society again,” she said. “Some find themselves returning to prostitution because it's the only thing they know and it seems easier than coming to terms with what they've been through.
“We know victims of human trafficking come from a variety of backgrounds - they may be male or female, adult or child. They are not always victims of sexual exploitation but they may be forced to work in servitude in a range of employment sectors.”
The inquiry began in October when police began raiding sex dens as part of Operation Pentameter, a national clamp down on human trafficking.
The gangs responsible are thought to originate from South East Asia. Norfolk's Pentameter team has raided a total of 56 premises including the suspected brothels.
The operation has so far led to 18 arrests in the county and a further seven elsewhere. Seven people from a variety of countries have been charged with human trafficking and prostitution offences.
Two months ago the team began working with the Met and Surrey police as the net began to close. At the weekend more than 100 officers swooped on 19 premises in London and Surrey and arrested a further 15 men and women suspected of being involved.
Officers also recovered criminal proceeds totalling £200,000 and rescued another 28 women.
Det Chf Insp Wilson said: “Norfolk is a safe place to live and we intend to keep it that way. If anybody has any concerns about this kind of activity they should contact their safer neighbourhood team who will pass the information on to specialist officers.
“Norfolk police will not tolerate any form of exploitation and this weekend's operation is just part of our continued effort to free victims and prosecute offenders to combat this dreadful crime.”