LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European women are being sex trafficked to Britain on an ‘industrial scale’ as the government fails to stop organized criminal gangs advertising and selling women online and exploiting them in pop-up brothels, lawmakers said on Monday.
Vulnerable women, mainly from eastern Europe, are being trafficked into England and Wales and forced to have sex with clients in rental homes and hotels, according to an inquiry into so-called pop-up brothels by a cross-party group of politicians.
Organized crime groups advertise their victims to buyers on sex marketplace websites and host them in temporary brothels - often homes rented for short periods of time - the report said.
Short-term home rental giant Airbnb said this year it would invest in new technology to tackle modern slavery amid concerns that traffickers are using its properties as pop-up brothels to sexually abuse women and girls in Britain and the United Sates.
“The sexual exploitation of women in pop-up brothels by organized crime groups is taking place on an industrial scale across England and Wales,” lawmaker and chairman of the group Gavin Shuker said in a statement. “(It) is a national scandal.”
A spokeswoman for Britain’s interior ministry (Home Office) said the Modern Slavery Act had given law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle modern slavery and identify victims online.
Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat slavery, and passed the law in 2015 to introduce life sentences for traffickers, force companies to check their supply chains for forced labor, and protect people at risk of being enslaved.
More than 8,500 ads for sexual services are posted online every month in Britain - where it is legal to buy and sell sex but soliciting and pimping are banned - police say.
While the extent to which women and girls are sold online for sex in Britain is unclear, at least 200 ongoing anti-slavery police operations involve sex exploitation - up from about 100 in early 2017 - according to the inquiry and data from police.
The lawmakers in the inquiry called for a crackdown on sites advertising prostitution, the establishment of a register of landlords to prevent pop-up brothels, and the criminalisation of buying sex in order to tackle the demand that fuels trafficking.
Anti-trafficking charity Unseen said it was concerned about the growing trend of pop-up brothels and increasing use of technology by criminals to recruit, exploit and control victims.
“The women in pop-up brothels across the board are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and sexual slavery because they are isolated, moved around and controlled,” Linda Joynes of Unseen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
In Britain, at least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery, but police say the true figure is far more likely to be in the tens of thousands.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org