Sex trafficking unit closed. What now for 4,000 victims?

Police team disbanded just as new law makes it an offence to pay for sex with those under duress
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The Independent Online

The flat in London's exclusive Belsize Park could have been home to any well-off couple. A tree-lined street, ornate red-brick exterior and luxury cars lining the roadside give the impression of respectability. But last week the truth of what went on behind its walls was exposed as a court found that Hungarian criminals had been trafficking women and holding them as sex slaves.

Many of the women – such as 19-year-old Julianna, whose diary we publish exclusively today – come here to escape dead-end lives and poverty, lured by the promise of big money. Some have no idea what lies ahead, others, naively, believe they can do "erotic work" for a few weeks and go home unscathed with a stack of cash.

Julianna's diary chronicles her time in the brothel: with no riches, just degradation, pain, drink or drugs. Many of her co-workers had arrived with no idea they were to be fodder for the sex industry and were locked away, forced to work for no money.

The traffickers who abused and robbed Julianna – Andrea Novak, 20, and Joszef Budai, 24 – were sentenced to eight years each at Croydon Crown Court on Tuesday. Paradoxically, the Metropolitan Police team that brought them to justice was disbanded last week.

Judge Simon Pratt described the case as "the closest to human slavery you could possibly get". The trial detailed how the pair had lured girls as young as 16 over from Hungary, charged £140 an hour for their services and pocketed almost all of the money. This Thursday, a new law will make it a criminal offence to pay for sex with someone who has been forced into the trade.

Tomorrow, members of Operation Maxim, the UK's only dedicated police unit to tackle human trafficking, will begin new jobs throughout the Met, casualties of a lack of funds.

With the Olympics just two years away, there is concern that the unit has been disbanded prematurely. "What sort of organisation would allow the loss of expertise now, when the Olympics are imminent and the trafficking threat is likely to be at its peak?" asked Christine Beddoe, director of the charity End Child Prostitution and Trafficking. "It is still completely unclear what long-term commitment the Met has to eradicating human trafficking."

Police intelligence suggests 4,000 people are trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation every year. These cases will now be dealt with by Scotland Yard's clubs and vice unit. Charities working with victims say they are worried trafficking will end up at the bottom of the unit's priorities.