Case reveals tragedy of immigrant sex slaves

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sandra was looking forward to her new life in Britain. After meeting a man at a party in her native Lithuania who offered her a job in a nightclub, the 16-year-old endured a 27-hour bus journey to arrive at a London café where she was met by Virginijus Suchodolskis, a compatriot and a former European motorcycle champion.

Within hours, the teenager had been given a new hair style, a manicure and a wardrobe of revealing clothes. But any dreams she may have had of well-paid work on the capital's party scene rapidly evaporated as she was photographed semi-naked and her image posted on a website with the title "European Angels".

Seven months later, the full horror of what Sandra's existence in Britain entailed was revealed after she climbed out of a window in a Wolverhampton pub acting as a front for a brothel and walked into a police station to tell of a life of enforced prostitution, violence and cruel exploitation.

Suchodolskis, 32, is starting an eight-year prison sentence this week for his role as the mastermind of a sex trafficking gang which brought dozens of young women, including Sandra, from eastern Europe to brothels in London and the Midlands, threatening them with broken legs and reprisals against their families if they failed to meet a quota of men to sleep with each week.

The seven-strong gang of Lithuanian and Chinese criminals made up to £5,000 a day from pimping the young women they controlled, often plying them with cocaine to make them more compliant. It is estimated the men made £1m from their activities over a seven-month period during 2006. On several occasions, women, including Sandra, were sold on to other gangsters for £5,000 a time.

"What these gangs do is modern day slavery," said Detective Inspector Gary Young of Scotland Yard's clubs and vice unit, which carried out the undercover operation that led to the arrest of Suchodolskis and his accomplices. This growing industry is being fuelled by the expansion and sophistication of the internet, he said.

It is estimated that, at any one time, up to 4,000 women are being compelled to work as prostitutes in Britain by criminal gangs. About 85 per cent of the women come from abroad, originating from countries as far apart as Brazil and Malaysia, Lithuania and Thailand.

The Independent has been told that gangsters who previously tended to maintain their own prostitute and brothel networks, often along lines of nationality, are pooling their resources by advertising women on each other's escort websites and sharing the proceeds when a "booking" is made.

Sandra, an alias given to the teenager by police to protect her identity, was given just 8 per cent of the money she made from the men who had sex with her for as little as £20 a time. In order to be given her freedom, she was told she would have to pay £10,000 – a sum she could never hope to raise.

The victims are not kept locked in rooms and some women are brought to Britain knowing they will work in the sex industry but thinking they will work one or two days a week until they get the money to leave.

"But the reality when they get here is one of threats, violence and coercion to make sure they are available to be sold for sex 24 hours a day and seven days a week for virtually nothing," Said DI Young.

The Association of Chief Police Officers warned earlier this month that brothels where women are made to work under duress as prostitutes are now spread across Britain beyond cities into towns and even villages. There are thought to be 100 brothels in rural Cambridgeshire alone, many of them controlled by east European mafiosi.