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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Beer, banter... and a brothel
By Duncan Walker
BBC News

Telling men who use prostitutes that some have been forced into sex work is at the heart of efforts to beat trafficking. The problem, however, is making them listen.

Britain has seen a dramatic rise in the demand for sex workers

"She told me she sees over eight clients a day, seven days a week," writes the "field reporter" on a prostitute review website.

"She hates men: 'They abuse me'. Sounds to me like she's trafficked."

Whether the punter was sufficiently concerned to call police following his exit from the Windsor brothel is unclear. But it is likely that his suspicions are correct - ministers say thousands of foreign women have been brought to the UK to work in its sex industry.

It led to Tuesday's launch by police of the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), a unit charged with tackling the problem.

Among the men it hopes to reach are not only those who visit prostitutes alone, but the growing number of young men who end an evening of beer and banter with a trip to a brothel together.

Startlingly ordinary

Greater awareness of trafficking follows two decades in which the demand for sex workers has, according to UKHTC officers, "increased dramatically".

Human trafficking - movement of people for 'slavery'
Most cases in UK involve sexually exploited women
Victims have been found in every part of the UK
Majority of UK victims from Eastern Europe and Asia
Around world more than 100 countries involved in trafficking

Many of the women meeting this demand come from overseas.

A study by anti-trafficking charity the Poppy Project found that about 80% of prostitutes in London were foreign. The proportion in other towns and cities is also high. Among them, in every part of the UK, are trafficking victims.

The typical man who uses prostitutes is startlingly ordinary. He is: "Around 30 years of age, married, in full time employment, and with no criminal convictions," the Home Office suggests.

This girl is clearly not independent.... The agency owners are obviously trafficking over these girls to work in the paid sex industry for their own greed
Website 'review' - Kingston

Nor are they as few and far between as many people would expect. A study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections in 2005 suggested that one in 10 British men used prostitutes.

Divorce rates, sex tourism, stag weekends, lads' mags and the ubiquity of internet pornography have all been blamed.

"What we're seeing more and more now is young men going out in groups, treating a trip to a brothel as a social event - just as if they are going to the pub," the UKHTC's Deputy Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell has said.

It is this "laddish" group that Mr Maxwell sees as the priority for educating about links between prostitution and trafficking.

The aim is to "put it into people's minds that if you are paying for sex, you may be paying for sex with a trafficked woman".

Rights and wrongs

Efforts to alert men to the plight of trafficked women side-step arguments about the rights and wrongs of prostitution, to concentrate on the victims.

There is a reassuring glimpse of iron in her personality - reassuring because of the rumours that she might be trafficked
Website 'review' - Kingston

Awareness campaigns have emphasised their status as unwilling participants and men have been reminded of how they would feel if it were happening to their own sister, girlfriend or daughter.

The Crimestoppers number has been promoted - including on prostitute 'review' websites - to encourage men to contact police if they believe a woman has been trafficked.

There is some anecdotal evidence that punters are responding positively - with postings on their message boards suggesting they are more aware of the issues, police say.


In a number of cases, women have been rescued with the help of clients.

"We have had referrals where women have actively sought help and been assisted (to escape) by a punter," says Natalia Dawkins, manager of the Poppy Project.

But these cases are still the exception - the majority of punters remain either unaware of the extent of the problem, or indifferent to it. Some enjoy the women's plight, police say.

'Human nature'

Claims that men may not be aware when a woman is trafficked are rejected by Ms Dawkins who says "human nature" would quickly make it apparent.

"Men who buy sex are aware when women are trafficked or not there of their own choice. It would have been obvious."

Not only is there likely to be some distress on the victim's part, but there are other clues - like being offered an Italian woman, but finding an Albanian who speaks no English.

Other clues might be that the price quoted is lower than normal, or unprotected sex is offered, says Mr Maxwell.

'Wider implications'

One area in which there have been calls for greater action is in prosecuting men who have sex with trafficked women. So far there have only been a handful of arrests.

A problem is that in ordinary rape cases evidence gathering, from the woman and the scene, is comparatively straightforward.

In the case of a trafficking victim "they're being raped 30 times a day and probably, after a certain time, don't want to think about what's happening to them," says Mr Maxwell.

The way forward, he says, is for police to prosecute traffickers while increasing awareness among men of trafficking.

"We want it to be a topic of conversation," he says, adding that men need to realise that "slavery still exists".

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