Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Ian Burrell
Home Affairs Correspondent

Trafficked sex slaves create HIV 'time bomb'

A senior police officer warned yesterday that Britain faced a "time bomb" of HIV because of the increasing number of trafficked foreign prostitutes working in British brothels.

The head of Scotland Yard's clubs and vice unit said women from Eastern Europe were arriving in increasing numbers and being forced to perform unprotected sexual acts "unheard-of 20 years ago".

Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey, who is also the spokesman on sex trafficking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We could be looking at severe problems with HIV, among other serious health problems. My personal belief is that we are sitting on a time bomb."

Immigration officials said yesterday they were so concerned by the sex trafficking trade they were prepared to delay removing victims from Britain so they can give evidence against their traffickers. In exceptional circumstances, women victims who are in breach of immigration rules will be allowed to stay in Britain indefinitely because of the risk of reprisals if they return home.

The first specialist unit of police and immigration officials to investigate sex-trafficking gangs will begin operations next week, a Home Office official said. It will be based at the National Crime Squad in London.

Police have been criticised for not monitoring the increasing presence of foreign prostitutes in towns and cities across Britain. Chief Supt Humphrey said that many of the women — some of whom are lured to Britain with the offer of learning English — found themselves owing thousands of pounds to traffickers. And the sheer number of women arriving had driven down the prices charged for various acts.

"The women are locked into debt bondage which they can't actually unshackle themselves from," he added.

Despite the growth of the problem the total number of prosecutions brought against sex-traffickers last year was only about a dozen. Ch Supt Humphrey said: "We have to select the case with the most violence, coercion and exploitation. There is a job a day out there if we wanted it but we have to be selective because there's just too much volume."

Officers confiscated £4m in illegal funds from the traffickers last year. Many of London's brothels are now part or wholly controlled by Albanian crime gangs.

Mike Kaye, of the Anti-Slavery International group, said sex trafficking was a nationwide problem. He urged the authorities to provide secure accommodation, health care and legal advice for victims so they could consider whether to give testimony against their bosses.

Carron Somerset, of the London-based End Child Prostitution and Trafficking group, found in a recent investigation that 66 unaccompanied child refugees flown into Gatwick airport from west Africa since 1995 were suspected of having gone to work in the sex trade.

Ms Somerset said West Sussex social services, which had noticed the children were disappearing after being admitted to care homes, had set up a safe house and new rules for dealing with future cases. But she warned that other social services departments near ports and airports needed to increase their vigilance.

The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention launched a global project in London yesterday using television to warn in nine languages about the dangers of people trafficking.

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Created: September 4, 2002
Last modified: September 9, 2002
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