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Sex slaves investigation: Escort websites important to police inquiry

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Suspicious profiles, offers for unprotected sex and women from trafficking hotspots 'new' to your area – how much can online escort websites be trusted?

West Midlands Police has confirmed they now form a substantial part of their work in identifying sex trafficking victims in the region.

Searching one such popular website the Express & Star was able to list 424 women throughout the Black Country and Staffordshire.

  • Sex slaves on your doorstep
  • Girls hidden in plain sight
  • It feels dirty and wrong - a business transaction

The most were in Wolverhampton 159, followed by Walsall 86, Dudley 81 and Sandwell 32, while in Staffordshire 42 could be found in Stafford and 24 were listed in Cannock.

A total of 84 (20 per cent) across the two areas were foreign nationals while 63 (15 per cent) came from Eastern European countries.

Romania accounted for most of non-British sex workers in the area with 54.

Last year lead-slavery charity The Salvation Army listed the country as the fourth most common nationality for female slavery victims in the UK.

Bill Etheridge

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West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge has called for more to be done to save girls who are brought to the UK for prostitution.

Mr Etheridge described the cases highlighted in today's Express & Star report as being incredibly sad.

He said it was another reason why the country's border needed to be properly controlled.

"It is just incredibly sad. The people involved are told a complete lie and then they are going through awful experiences.

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"It must be highlighted. This is the reality when the borders are not properly controlled.

"This is the human face and sickening truth when people talk about border control and security," said Mr Etheridge.

"It is a necessity to know who is coming to our country and why, making sure that these young girls are looked after and not falling in to the hands of gangs."

Mr Etheridge said he was aware of prostitution in the West Midlands, saying: "You get people tip you off about it, saying things like, 'that house was once used for that purpose'." And he congratulated the Express & Star on its investigation.

"I hope more is done to help these girls and stop the act of human trafficking," said the MEP.

It comes after two men were arrested as part of a West Midlands Police slavery investigation into suspected brothels in Coventry.

Officers raided an address on Thursday night, acting on intelligence suggesting it was being used by traffickers luring women from Eastern Europe to work in the sex industry.

Two men, aged 35 and 50 – both Romanian nationals – were arrested at the property and are being held in police custody for questioning on suspicion of slavery offences.

Investigating officer, Detective Inspector Wes Martin, said: "We've identified several adverts on adult websites with links to addresses in Coventry which we suspect are being used as illegal brothels and where women are being made to work."

DI Martin added: "If anyone suspects people are being exploited in their community, or has concerns that an address is being used to house people who've been trafficked into the country, I'd urge them to call us so that we can take action."

The raid in Coventry was supported by the National Crime Agency, the Salvation Army and slavery charity Hope for Justice.

The content of profiles leads to more suspicion. Many of the escorts offer unprotected sex for an additional cost, suggesting they either believe they have nothing to lose or they have no choice.

And broadly standard rates from as little as £40 for 15 minutes up to more than £1,000 for an overnight stay.

A lot of the adverts, including the two escorts our undercover reporters met with, contain detailed written descriptions of themselves and a Frequently Asked Questions segment about their do's and don'ts.

While they are written in legible albeit ungrammatical English the sex workers we encountered had a very poor grasp of the language in person.

A lot of the prostitutes also claim to be 'independent'.

But their profile pictures would indicate otherwise while the fact they move around the country would also allude to a larger, more organised, illegal operation.

The profile for the Walsall escort we booked read 'I came back just for you' while her description stated she did work in Leicester on a daily basis.

Further suspicions arose when her profile name changed a week later.

Detective Inspector Nick Walton confirmed many of the Express & Star's observations were in line with force intelligence around potential trafficking victims being advertised on the internet.

He said: "The profile descriptions are indicative of the fact they (prostitutes) are getting help either from the website they are using, or by their exploiters instead.

"We have concerns around that."

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