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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
New unit targets sex traffickers
Police raid - courtesy Gloucestershire Police
Raids across the UK have taken place as part of the operation
A dedicated national task force is to be set up to deal with women trafficked into the UK for sex.

The Sheffield-based Human Trafficking Centre will be staffed by police, Crown Prosecution Service lawyers and Serious Organised Crime Agency officers.

The unit will continue the work of a four-month police project which has seen 232 arrests and the "rescue" of 84 alleged victims, the Home Office said.

Operation Pentameter saw 515 raids on premises in the UK and Ireland.

All 55 police forces in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the Channel Islands were involved.

About half of the victims were from Eastern European, with the remainder nationals of Far East, African or South American countries.

Among those found to be working in the industry were 12 children aged 14 to 17.

'Massage parlours'

During the last four months, officers have executed warrants in brothels, private homes and massage parlours.

Police chiefs have said woman snared by human traffickers can be forced by violent pimps to have sex with as many as 40 men a day.

The operation has included asking men who use prostitutes to be on the lookout for women who may have been forced into the sex trade against their will.

It is through this focus that I believe we can make urgent inroads into the sex industry
Grahame Maxwell, South Yorks Deputy Chief Constable

Posters were also put up to heighten the awareness of women who were being unsuspectingly lured into the country to work as prostitutes.

South Yorkshire's Deputy Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, who led the operation, said the scale of what was discovered was "shocking".

In future, officers will use intelligence from local communities to track down brothels, he said.

"It is through this focus that I believe we can make urgent inroads into the sex industry and this heinous and barbaric crime that is sex trafficking," he added.

But police admit Operation Pentameter only targeted the "tip of the iceberg".

Shadow home secretary David Davis welcomed the setting up of the unit.

But he said the best defence against drug trafficking, human trafficking and other crimes would be a single border police force.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, however, described the approach as "hopelessly flawed".

"Without adequate support and counselling, there is no incentive for the victims to come forward for help or to testify against the traffickers who abuse and exploit them," he said.

He called for better support for victims and rejected suggestions this would encourage foreign women to claim to have been trafficked to stay in the country.

  • Some victims of human traffickers could be given an automatic right to stay in the UK under proposals currently being considered by the Home Office and Scottish Executive.

    Support schemes for victims were among the other ideas suggested in a public consultation on the issue.

    In a separate announcement on the consultation, the Home Office said a majority of respondents had stated that any action plan should focus on human rights and the protection of victims, as well as the prosecution of traffickers.


  • BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
    More details about the police operation



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