Social media websites are being warned not to promote prostitution websites after it emerged that they are used by sex traffickers.
The Sunday Times revealed that websites such as Escort England, Escort Scotland, Adultwork and Viva Street were running adverts for sexual services on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The sites are reportedly being used to promote sex-for-sale with women trafficked from China, Vietnam, Nigeria and other countries before being forced into prostitution.
Facebook and Instagram ban the use of nude and explicit images and content on their platforms, with Facebook blocking any content that “facilitates, encourages or co-ordinates sexual encounters between adults”, while Instagram states that “offering sexual services” is not allowed.
Twitter allows such content to be shared if it is “consensually produced adult content”, but does ban the promotion of adult sexual content in its paid adverts.
Nevertheless, anti-trafficking campaigners say savvy website owners understand how to operate within the restrictions.
Lizzy Jewell, of campaign group Stop the Traffik, said that “while the public face of the websites is above board, and the content that is posted on public social networks sticks to the rules, the reality may be that the services being sold are not legal or safe”.
Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance’s Bronagh Andrew said: “Women who are trafficked for prostitution don’t see themselves as being involved in the sex industry. They see themselves as being raped on a daily basis.”
After being notified by The Sunday Times, Facebook and Instagram suspended Adultwork and Viva Street’s accounts, with a spokesman saying: “Sexual exploitation has no place on our platforms”.
Escort Scotland’s Twitter account was also suspended.