Women in the North East are being forced into prostitution to pay back spiralling debts to loan sharks, according to a financial watchdog.
David Sayer, head of the Illegal Money Lending Team, said he had come across some shocking cases in recent months as the recession took hold.
He said there were at least 85 loan sharks working across the North East, lending money with huge interest rates.
Many use intimidation and violence to force their victims to pay up.
Mr Sayer, who heads the team on Teesside, said: "It is a growing problem and we have noticed the number of calls asking for help go up in recent months since we set up 14 months ago.
"Some women have been told they should sell themselves to pay off their debts."
He said he knew of at least one case where a woman was sexually assaulted after being unable to pay off her debt.
Mr Sayer added: "If someone borrows money from a loan shark they could find themselves paying off thousands more than they first borrowed and they may even borrow more money to pay off the original debt.
"If you are struggling financially, don't be tempted to turn to a loan shark.
"Local vetted credit unions offer better interest rates, and call our helpline for advice."