Campaigners against sex trafficking have warned that unless there is a crackdown on brothels in Britain sex trafficking will rise in the UK.
The Poppy Project has urged police to prioritise brothels as an urgent target because they create an environment where trafficking can thrive.
The call comes after a Romanian father and son, Bogdan and Marius Nejloveanu, were jailed recently for trafficking five young women to England.
The son, Marius Nejloveanu, was given 21 years for repeatedly raping and beating the women, the longest sentence for trafficking in the UK.
One of the women trafficked by the father and son told the Observer newspaper about how she was forced to have sex up to 50 times a week, after she was kidnapped at the age of 17 and forced to work in a brothel masquerading as a massage parlour.
The Poppy Project’s spokesman, Abigail Stepnitz, called on police to urgently target brothels masquerading as saunas, massage parlours and private flats. According to the Observer, almost 6,000 have been identified in England and Wales.
Abigail Stepnitz said: “The focus on trafficking has been to remove immigration offenders or to prosecute organised criminal networks. From our experience the focus has not necessarily been on addressing the presence of brothels that create an environment where trafficking can thrive. That has never been the focus.”
The last major crackdown on brothels in 2008 led to police storming 822 premises and more than 528 individuals being arrested.
There are 17,000 migrants working in UK brothels, according to a report completed by the Association of Chief Police Officers last year.
It claimed that of the 9,000 identified as Eastern European, 400 had been trafficked.
Police identified a further 4,128 women from eastern Europe which they catergorised as “vulnerable”.
But campaigners have criticised police methods of identifying victims of trafficking and argue that the report significantly underestimates the problem.
Current UK law does not make the buying or selling of sex in itself a criminal activity, but brothels and the public nuisance associated with prostitution are illegal.
In 2008 under the Labour Government a clampdown on prostitution in England and Wales was announced by the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
New measures aimed at tackling the exploitation of women by pimps and human traffickers by cutting demand were implemented on 1 April last year.
Under the new legislation it is illegal for a man to pay for sex with a prostitute who is being exploited through force, deception or threats – regardless of whether or not he knows she is selling her body against her will.
The courts also have the power to close down premises associated with certain prostitution and pornography offences.
And a new penalty for the offence of soliciting will oblige sex workers to attend meetings at which they will be helped to leave prostitution.
On the day the law changed last year three men were immediately arrested under the new legislation.
Det Insp Kevin Hyland of the Metropolitan Police said: “Men who visit brothels and pay for sex are exploiting vulnerable woman and plying a trade of abuse.
“The new legislation, enforceable from today, means that people who pay for sex in brothels can be arrested and appear before the courts, which we hope will act as a deterrent to others.”
The Home Office said that it plans to publish guidance in Spring 2011 on how best to police and deal with problems linked to prostitution.