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Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Police 'losing battle' against sex trade
Thousands of women are forced into Britain's sex trade

Irina Litvinova chain smokes nervously throughout my interview with her. She is from the Ukraine and until about two years ago Irina was a teacher.

She claims she was persecuted and had to escape. A local man promised her a better life in Britain but he turned out to be part of an organised gang of human traffickers.

He tried to force her into prostitution but Irina refused, paying a heavy price, she told the BBC's World Service.

"He took a knife to me in the kitchen and put it to my throat and then he took me into another room.

"He screamed at me, "who do you think you are, some sort of virgin? I'll show you what you are. He beat me until I fell on to the floor. Then he raped me. My face was covered in blood and then he went out", she explained.


On the floor playing with her toys in the house in Manchester is little Nadia.

Irina says her daugher is the result of that horrific rape.

It gets worse. Irina says they both contracted syphilis and were about to be deported until a doctor stepped in.

They have been allowed to stay only until they have recovered.

Both Irina and Nadia will soon be deported.

Irina's story is not that unusual.

According to a United Nations and International Labour Organisation conference last year up to 6,000 women and children from Eastern Europe are brought to Britain, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands each year by organised crime groups.

Home office minister Beverley Hughes
Beverley Hughes: Crime needs robust treatment

Most end up in the sex trade.

Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey describes it as a modern form of slavery.

He says he is losing the battle because the British government is not taking the problem seriously enough.

"The vice trade is one to which people can, if they wish, turn a blind eye. But I fail to see how we as a mature society can turn our back on people.

"Just because the majority of the women in this industry are from Eastern Europe it should not be a reason for not actually treating it with the utmost seriousness because we're dealing with crimes against humanity. "

The major concern for Britain is the risk that the UK will be seen by the world's sex traffickers as a 'soft-touch'.

Tackling the crime

The Home Office minister Beverley Hughes insisted that the government was doing all it could to tackle the problem.

"I agree with Simon Humphrey that people trafficking is an absolutely appalling crime that has got to be tackled very robustly".

"Where I do disagree with him very strongly is that we are not doing that. We have been developing a very comprehensive and sophisticated approach involving legislation, victim protection, enforcement and intelligence", the minister said.

The Home Office points to putting dozens of organised gangs out of commission and almost seventy arrests since April 2001.

Irina Litvinova fears the worst and is simply waiting to be deported to the Ukraine.

She said: "I'm revolted this should happen after what's happened to me. I've been raped on British soil and if we are sent back there's no prospect of our having a flat to live in, and I think there's a serious danger to my life and to my daughter's Nadia.

I have committed no criminal offence. I would just like to be allowed to live peacefully here and work and bring up my daughter. "

Those who work with immigrant women forced into prostitution say the victims are being forgotten in all this because they are deported to the place from where they escaped, often to great personal risk.

Hear more about the issue in a documentary being broadcast on the BBC World Service. Assignment will be broadcast on the BBC World Service at 10.30pm on Saturday and will be repeated at 1.30pm and 7.30pm on Sunday

See also:

22 Mar 02 | Europe
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08 May 02 | Scotland
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