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The North East sex slave trade
BBC Look North's Stuart Whincup
By Stuart Whincup
BBC Look North

The BBC has found evidence of more than a hundred foreign women who have been smuggled into the North East and forced to work in the sex trade.

Many believed they were coming to the UK to work as au-pairs, or waitresses, only to be sold to brothel keepers, as soon as they arrived in Britain.

Traffickers can make anything up to £5,000 for the youngest girls.

The women are routinely threatened with violence and can be made to have sex with up to 30 customers a day.

The ages of these young women vary greatly, but most are between 18 and 24 years old.

BBC Look North's Stuart Whincup investigates the North East sex slave trade

If you don't give her money, they will beat you. They will bring a man who will come to your room and rape you
Abiyo, Trafficking victim

While investigating the trade, I came across the same story again and again. A young woman meets a charming stranger. They become friends, often boyfriend and girlfriend.

The woman is told she can have a better life in the UK, where work has already been arranged for her. She can make good money and send some back to her family.

It is only on arrival in the UK that the woman realises the person she had come to trust is, in truth, a people trafficker.

Perhaps most shocking is the speed with which the dream of a better life is snatched away to reveal the true horror of the victim's predicament.

In some of the cases I heard, the women were betrayed and sold into sex slavery just minutes after their arrival in the UK. The deals are done in airport cafe's and service stations.

Abiyo came here from Nigeria believing she was going to work as a hairdresser. What she didn't know was that her own aunt had sold her to a gang to work in the sex trade.

"The madam would be at home waiting for you and if you don't give her money, they will beat you. They will bring a man who will come to your room and rape you."

Close to home
Elaine Hill, Medaille Trust
They've found themselves locked in a cellar for months at a time
Elaine Hill, Medaille Trust

Over the last few years, police forces across the North East have been involved in raids and operations on massage parlours and brothels, where trafficked women have been discovered.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is not a trade that is going on in the dark corners of the North East.

The majority of brothels and massage parlours where these women are held are in residential communities.

The police say that, when they raid these properties, time and time again the neighbours say they had no idea what was going on next door.

Help at hand

Local charities say they have been aware for sometime of the problem of sex trafficking spreading through the region's towns and cities and the head of the UK Trafficking Centre admits the trade is a growing problem here.

Darlington's Medaille Trust is a Christian charity that runs safe houses and offers support to the victims of sex trafficking.

The Medaille Trust logo
The Medaille Trust is one of a number of charities providing support for trafficked women

Project manager Elaine Hill says the organisation has helped dozens of women who have suffered horrific abuse.

"The women who come to us are deeply traumatised. They are usually suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They've found themselves locked in a cellar for months at a time, so they've not seen any daylight and they have nightmares and flashbacks.

"We had one woman who was stabbed by the brothel madam, so we had to make sure her stab wounds were treated."

Sadly, these cases are not uncommon. Over the course of my investigation, I heard countless cases of women who had been beaten and raped, then forced to have sex with up to 30 customers a day.

Organised Gangs and Newspaper Adverts
Police raid on a brothel
Police have raided several brothels in the region

As increasing demand for prostitutes pushes more and more money into the traffickers' hands, the trade has become more and more sophisticated.

One senior police officer told me that smuggling people for the sex trade is now seen as an easier way of making money than drugs, with the gangs believing they're less likely to get caught.

Newspapers and countless websites are now carrying adverts for brothels and massage parlours in the North East and local support charities say while there is such demand for prostitutes, and gangs are making so much money from their misery, women will continue to be trafficked here, deceived into thinking they are embarking on a better life.

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