Redbridge’s trafficking underworld: ‘Just because you can’t see a pimp it doesn’t mean sex workers want to be there’

Ilford Lane at dusk

Ilford Lane at dusk - Credit: Archant

“There is definitely an issue of trafficking in Redbridge, and this is not just on the streets but in the brothels as well.”

These are the blunt words of outreach worker and Redbridge resident Michelle Harewood.

“It’s not because you can’t see a pimp that these women – or men – want to be there. Half the time, these women are forced to do this in very dangerous conditions,” she explained, adding victims were very unlikely to talk about it.

Redbridge Ch Insp John Fish said the fact women were not “being handcuffed in the basement of a container and shipped to the UK” did not mean they had not been trafficked.

Though it is difficult to give an exact figure, he believes a large number of sex workers in the borough have been trafficked.

“The men paying for these sexual services are absolutely engaging with criminally trafficked women,” he said.

Women from eastern Europe and particularly Romania appear to be lured into Redbridge, controlled, coerced and threatened by organised networks into becoming sex workers.

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But to stop these organisations, victims of trafficking must tell their stories to Redbridge Police and explicitly set out the level of control they are subject to.

“For the victim, it’s having that confidence to come forward and tell their story so we can help them,” said Ch Insp Fish, adding very few women came forward.

Chief executive of Refugee and Migrant Forum Of East London (RAMFEL) Rita Chadha said while the charity used to deal with victims of trafficking sporadically, in the past couple of years there have been two to three cases a month – “considerably more”.

Mrs Harewood said there was a worrying trend of women going away for a few weeks and coming back with new recruits.

She said the clothes they wear, the prices they charge and the story they tell could all indicate whether a sex worker has been trafficked.

“There is a definite pattern when you talk to these women. Their stories are all the same – it’s like they have been coached,” she said.

Heather Harvey from The Nia Project, which supports victims of sexual and domestic violence, said trafficked women’s stories were the same “almost word for word”.

They say they are married with children and send money back to their families.

But in most cases these women were being controlled and working under conditions which constitute trafficking.