Police 'ignore vice trade from Eastern Europe'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Every big city in Britain now has a problem with East European women brought in to work in the sex trade but chief constables are ignoring the issue, a report being prepared for the Home Office will say.

A senior female police officer who was asked to investigate the vice trade said the East European problem started in London but was now widespread. Her report is expected to accuse police forces of failing to tackle the issue. She said: "Without a doubt, every major city in the UK has a similar problem but it's really difficult to do any threat assessment because there are no figures and there are unlikely to be so while there is this lack of interest, knowledge and expertise."

Scotland Yard has said 70 per cent of the brothels in central London are run by Albanians and that three-quarters of the women working in them are from Eastern Europe. The new report identifies Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds as cities where East European prostitutes have become a particular problem. Birmingham and Glasgow were found to be similarly affected in a report last month by the End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking organisation.

East European prostitutes usually operate from brothels and saunas but police are more intent on tackling street vice, which is seen as a greater public nuisance. The report to the Home Office will say that current laws to tackle sex traffickers are inadequate. The Metropolitan Police was the only force taking positive action against the trade but was hampered by having to use the antiquated Sex Offences Act 1956, which forbids living off immoral earnings.

Traffickers who pleaded guilty faced a maximum of only two years in jail, which discouraged forces from bringing prosecutions, the author, who has asked not be identified, said. As part of her research, she travelled to America, where life sentences have been introduced for traffickers, and Germany, where 400 prosecutions are being brought each year against the vice gangs.

The current policy of immediately deporting the sex workers before they have given evidence against the traffickers is also giving cause for concern. The officer said: "It's a well-known fact that they are met by traffickers at the airport in the source countries and within days they are back in Britain exactly where they were before." She called for a network of safe houses to be set up to enable the women to become prosecution witnesses without fear of retribution.

She said: "Chief constables have their strategies and their budgets. They have to reach targets for vehicle crime, street crime and burglary and that is where the resources go. But we need awareness that this is a growing problem that is sneaking up on us."

The study will be presented to ministers later this year.

Estimates suggest 140,000 foreign women a year are brought to work in Britain's vice trade, mostly from Albania, Latvia and Ukraine. The women often travel to Britain thinking they will work as waitresses. Many are not smuggled into the country but arrive on valid visas and stay on illegally.

Elaine Pearson, of the charity Anti-Slavery International, said Britain was the only country in the European Union without an organisation to help victims of the trade. She said: "We should be giving them the legal advice, medical care and counselling they need. These women are so isolated and usually don't speak English. They are afraid of the police and afraid of going home."