Police target suburban sex slaves

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The Independent Online

Police have turned their attention to suburbs and market towns in a new operation to rescue some of the thousands of "sex slaves" smuggled in to Britain to work as prostitutes.

But Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, warned that some women saved from virtual imprisonment in brothels could still be deported. All police forces across the UK have begun a three-month series of raids designed to break up human trafficking rings.

At least 4,000 women are believed to have been spirited into Britain to work against their will as prostitutes, although the true figure could be far higher.

They are being sent to suburban areas, smaller towns and rural districts as well as the traditional red-light districts in major cities. More than 80 per cent of prostitutes in this country are thought to be foreign.

Three women have already been rescued since the second wave of the operation, named Pentameter, was launched on Monday.

Police made more than 200 arrests and saved 80 women and girls, including children as young as 14, during the previous phase. Half came from east European countries, such as Romania and Albania, with the rest from the Far East, Africa and South America.

Most had been kidnapped or tricked into travelling to Britain and then put to work in brothels where they were beaten or raped if they failed to earn enough money.

Ms Smith agreed that men who frequented the brothels fuelled the demand for trafficked women, but did not support a change in the law to criminalise prostitutes' clients.

Asked whether victims could be deported, she said they would be given a 30- day "reflection period". But she added: "I'm not going to give an across-the-board guarantee that nobody who is a victim of trafficking would be removed back to their source country. I believe that would be likely to act more generally as a pull-back."