Daily Mail (London), July 2, 2008
British girls as young as 12 are being forced into prostitution by migrants in a new crime of ‘internal’ people trafficking.
Children from ordinary families are groomed by older men posing as boyfriends before being pimped around the UK to have sex up to 20 times a night.
They are raped and often drugged, according to police.
Officers have identified ‘syndicates of Iraqi men throughout the UK’ behind the exploitation.
A Government report said ‘internal trafficking’ was an ‘emerging issue’ and it should no longer be assumed young victims of sex exploitation were smuggled from abroad.
A UK Human Trafficking Centre intelligence report says girls as young as 12 are taken from town to town and controlled with threats and assault.
In one operation, 32 victims were identified in the Sheffield area alone. All were aged 12 to 15 and had been raped.
In another study, police say girls ‘are given to a life of exploitation, waking up in anonymous towns, unable to contact family and with no way out’.
Figures released at the end of a six-month crackdown on people traffickers showed 167 victims were rescued across Britain and Ireland and 528 suspected traffickers were arrested.
It included 13 children aged between 14 and 17 who were rescued from sexual exploitation and two children who were under forced labour.
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said it was difficult to establish the scale of the problem with internal trafficking.
‘It is something that increasingly people are raising and we are trying to get a better understanding of what exactly is taking place,’ he said.
‘It is difficult for us to determine what the size of that problem is but it’s something we are aware of and we have concerns about.’
The minister said it tended to involve older men grooming younger women and girls by first appearing to be a friend or boyfriend.
He said the officers had adopted the term ‘lover boy’ to denote the use of such techniques.
‘There is no evidence that this involves children who have gone missing from care,’ the minister went on. It is people living in an area and people groom them, get their trust and then betray that trust.’
Gloucestershire Chief Constable Dr Tim Brain, who coordinated the major trafficking crackdown known as Operation Pentameter Two, said it had revealed a large number of brothels in apparently ordinary suburban locations.
Out of more than 800 premises visited by this campaign, nearly 600 were residential and 157 were massage parlours, saunas and nail bars, which are the more traditional ‘front’ for brothels.
‘It is impossible to say at this stage whether this is a shift in behaviour,’ Dr Brain said.
It is likely that in future police investigations will have to consider all kinds of premises.
‘In some of the cases the neighbours who live nearby have not actually suspected any kind of unusual activity.’
Latest estimates by police are that there may be as many 18,000 trafficked victims that are forced to work as prostitutes, Dr Brain went on.
The projections varied considerably and could be between 6,000 and 18,000, he added.
So far Operation Pentameter Two has led to 24 convictions for a range of offences.
The first phase of Pentameter in 2006 rescued 88 victims and made 232 arrests.
Dr Brain said: ‘The increase in arrests is good news in terms of police and partner agency effectiveness but it does mean that we still have an insidious problem in the heart of our society.’
Mr Coaker announced that the Government plans to grant a 45-day period of grace to victims of human trafficking after their rescue, even if they are in the country illegally.
The Home Office had already pledged to ratify a European agreement to give a period of 30 days.