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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 06:25 GMT
No boundaries in war on sex trafficking
by Jonathan Morris
BBC News South West

Prostitute generic
Refugees refused asylum may fall into prostitution say support groups
Almost a year ago to the day residents of the Cornish city of Truro watched in amazement as police officers swooped on a house in a quiet street.

The operation was part of the national operation Pentameter, which aims to tackle exploitation within the sex industry.

Today the fight against sex trafficking continues as officers from the Devon and Cornwall force share information with other forces around the UK.

The UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) in Sheffield, Europe's first dedicated centre for victims of people-trafficking, was created in October last year.

It brings together a number of agencies including care organisations and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to tackle 21st Century slavery, as the UK marks 200 years since the Parliamentary Act which to abolish the slave trade.

Det Insp Martin Warren of Soca in Devon and Cornwall said that since the introduction of the UKHTC, work had been stepped up to identify and care for victims of human trafficking, which was now "commonplace" in the West Country.

Victims are often reluctant to go to the authorities, fearing retribution
Det Insp Martin Warren
He said: "It is a fact the criminal networks involved do not limit their activity into the country's urban areas and the force recognises the need to take action within its own boundaries.

"The blatant exploitation of vulnerable people is totally contrary to normal social values in this country.

"People that get involved can expect some intervention by police at some stage."

He admitted that although the police accepted the illegal trade in humanity was now common in the region, the force faced difficulties unearthing victims.

Anonymous face
Medija was betrayed by a boyfriend who forced her into the sex industry
"Victims are often reluctant to go to the authorities, fearing retribution from their captors against them or even their families in their country of origin, so you do have a situation where it is difficult to get to the bottom of cases."

The Poppy Project in London is one of the care organisations that works with the UKHTC, and has provided safe accommodation for victims of sex trafficking from the West Country.

Nineteen-year-old Medija, from Albania, is one such victim and this is her story:

Before I was trafficked, I lived in a small town in Albania with my family.

I left school when I was 14 so I could work in the market with my father.

He was very worried all the time about money, and sometimes he would hit me.

While I was working I met a man called Guri.

He said he had seen me around and liked me. He became my boyfriend.

'Disowned me'

My parents did not approve and said I must choose between him and them. I decided to go and live with Guri, as I was tired of living in a small house.

After a few months he said he wanted to take me to live in Italy. I didn't want to go but my family had disowned me so I had no choice. I agreed to go.

Guri paid for my travel and we travelled by speedboat to Italy, where he gave me false Italian travel documents.

He said I would need them because the UK authorities were prejudiced against Albanians.

From Italy we travelled across Europe by coach to the UK, where we were met by a friend of Guri's.

He drove us to a house. That's when they told me that I would be working as a prostitute.

I screamed and cried and refused.

They beat me badly and raped me, and told me I had no choice. It was true.

I was exhausted and often in pain
Medija
I had sex with between five and ten men every day, seven days a week, working in saunas during the day and massage parlours some nights.

I was exhausted and often in pain, from all the men and from the beatings. I had no contact with my family and I was locked in the house all the time, only let out to go to work.

I lived like this for six months until the police raided the sauna.

They took me to the Poppy Project, who gave me shelter and are helping me recover from my experiences.

I still have many problems. I can't sleep and have nightmares, and sometimes I have panic attacks.

I am afraid of people and do not like to leave the house. I don't trust anybody.

I sometimes drink too much, to help me forget what happened. But it doesn't work. I will never forget what those men did to me.

Heather Sable of Plymouth-based Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support Council, said Medija's plight was "just the tip of the iceberg" of human suffering created by human trafficking in the region.

Each week she and her volunteer workers tackle about 100 cases a week of refugees for whom a paid human trafficker was the only way to get out of their country of origin and into the UK.

Provision of false passports and travel documents all came as part of the illicit trade in humans.

The result when refugees appear in the UK is often not what they expected.

'Fine line'

Refused asylum and relying partly on handouts, some fall prey to prostitution to make ends meet.

"I know at least two people that have got into prostitution out of destitution," she said.

"There is a fine line between human trafficking and asylum seekers."

Following the raid in Truro last year, two 28-year-old east European men were cautioned by police for sexual offences.

Last December, 61-year-old Philip Mepham, of Killivose Road, Camborne appeared at Truro Crown Court and admitted managing or assisting the management of a brothel.

He was fined 2,000 and ordered to pay 500 costs.

The court heard that the two Lithuanian women had been working at the brothel. One had left the area and the other had returned to Lithuania.




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