Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Factfile: Sex trade trafficking
West Midlands police have rescued 19 women who they believe were being forced into prostitution by a human trafficking gang.
The National Criminal Intelligence Service ranks organised immigration crime among the top four threats to the UK.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation and harbouring of people by means of threat, force or other forms of coercion for the purposes of exploitation.
The Home Office says the most trafficked prostitutes in the UK come from Lithuania, Thailand, Russia, Albania and Romania.
The NCIS says there are indications that criminal gangs, especially ethnic Albanians, are seeking to gain control of the trade in the UK. They are taking over established brothels and are "prepared to use violence to achieve this".
Support groups say women are often tricked into thinking they are coming to the UK to do legitimate jobs and then forced into prostitution.
Gangs involved in trafficking prostitutes are often involved in other serious criminal activities including drugs, counterfeiting, bank and benefit fraud.
In England and Wales, the gangs are subject to a range of legislation relating to both specific criminal offences and immigration laws.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 made trafficking for the purposes of prostitution a specific offence for the first time, providing a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 included a wider range offences relating to trafficking for sexual exploitation which also carry a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
According to the latest NCIS assessment, the identification of trafficked prostitutes in the UK is continuing to rise.
The NCIS says it is not clear whether the rise represents a new trend or better intelligence and it is unsafe to assume that all foreign women working in brothels are trafficking victims.
There have been some high profile prosecutions but police chiefs are said to be concerned that the gangs seem to be able to replace deported or arrested prostitutes within days.
The Home Office says research estimates there are 80,000 working prostitutes in the UK.
The London-based Poppy Project was set up as a Home Office pilot in March 2003 to combat the trafficking and sexual abuse of women brought into the UK.
According to the project, which provides support to victims, about 2,800 woman working in the UK sex trade are likely to have been trafficked.
The project says a "lack of opportunities in countries of origin" often leads to women being trafficked.
An evaluation of the Poppy Project has been carried out to help the government decide on the future of the scheme.
The Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform found in its first 15 months there were 43 placements from 169 referrals but no arrests or prosecutions brought against suspected traffickers.
The Home Office said criminal trials related to Poppy Project victims were currently pending.
The evaluation cited "tension" between the Metropolitan Police and the Immigration Service over their sometimes conflicting roles in combating trafficking crimes.
Amnesty International has called on the government to do more to protect victims of trafficking.
A spokeswoman said there was no protection in law for victims of trafficking who were often classed as illegal immigrants and deported.
Amnesty is also urging the government to sign up to the Council of Europe
Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which gives
victims the right to temporary residence permits and other assistance.
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