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     'I was raped and beaten. I lost the will to run away'

    Human TraffickingBy David Harrison

    Irina Valinsky perches on the edge of her bed in a north London flat and puffs anxiously on a cigarette. "Twenty-five to 30 a day," she says nervously. The 21-year-old Lithuanian is not answering a question about her tobacco habit, but about the average number of men she is forced to have sex with every day.

    Working at two flats and a "massage parlour" six days a week, she charges £150-£400, depending on the time and services supplied - but has to hand over almost all the money to her Russian pimp.

    She is one of thousands of vulnerable young girls who have been trafficked to Britain in the past few years from Eastern Europe, beaten, raped and coerced into a life of sexual slavery. Last week, in the Sunday Telegraph, I reported on how I was offered the chance to buy a Romanian woman for £1,300.

    Irina is typical of many of the girls brought to Britain from countries such as Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Albania and Russia.

    The explosion in trafficking has been fuelled by the expansion of the European Union - many Eastern Europeans no longer need visas for Britain - falling travel costs, criminal gangs exploiting any opportunity to make big money, and a seemingly limitless demand.

    Up to 6,000 women are estimated to have been trafficked into Britain in the past few years. About 1,500 traffickers were arrested last year and the Government and police are drawing up urgent measures to combat this relatively new crime.

    "There's always been some sex trafficking," said one Scotland Yard detective, "but the trickle has become a tide." More than 80 per cent of "off-street" prostitutes in London are now foreigners, mostly from Eastern Europe, compared with less than 20 per cent 10 years ago, according to recent research.

    Like most trafficked women, Irina was duped into coming to Britain and held under threat of violence to her and her family. She was "excited" when she landed a job as a waitress in London, after replying to a newspaper advertisement in Vilnius.

    But, once in England, she was introduced to an Albanian who took her passport and said he had paid £4,000 for her - and that now she would be working for him as a prostitute until she had paid it all back.

    "That first night he raped me, to break me in," she said. "I thought about escaping but he never let me out of his sight. He hit me in the face and his friends raped me. I lost the will to run away." After a year Irina was sold to her current pimp.

    The arrival of the girls from Eastern Europe has coincided with - and fuelled - a disturbing expansion of the sex industry. Most end up in the "off-street" sector: massage parlours, saunas, brothels, private flats, and, increasingly, lap-dancing and other "gentlemen's clubs". They are frequently sold on several times.

    "The traffickers and pimps rule by fear," says Denise Marshall who runs the Poppy Project, Britain's only refuge for women who escape from their sadistic controllers. "The girls are totally traumatised. It can take years for them to get back to anything resembling a normal life.

    "These girls are victims but are too often dismissed as prostitutes and illegal immigrants."

    Trafficking is "easy money" for criminals, says Ms Marshall. "Why should they risk carrying a bag of heroin into Britain when they can buy two girls, bring them in legally on the Eurostar and get their money back in a week?"

    The two-year-old Poppy Project, based in south London, is funded by the Home Office. It can house 25 girls and is full. The girls who make it to the shelter, usually after a referral from the police, have all experienced horrific abuse. Anna, a Ukrainian in her twenties, was raped at an early age and then beaten and gang-raped regularly, before being trafficked to Britain to work as a prostitute. Maria, a Moldovan was trafficked to London, beaten, raped, and sold as a prostitute three times.

    The Government is using the EU presidency to draw up a Europe-wide anti-trafficking "action plan" and will set up an organised crime agency in April next year. "The fact that so many women are being trafficked against their will has added a shocking new dimension to prostitution," said Paul Goggins, the Home Office minister for serious organised crime.

    Senior police officers want to see a new offence introduced for men who use trafficked women as prostitutes and say local authorities should close down saunas and massage parlours that offer sexual services.

    Det Chief Supt Steve Kupis, the head of Operation Maxim which fights organised immigration crime in London, said: "Trafficking women into prostitution is modern-day slavery."

    There have been successes. Last month, two men were jailed for a total of 36 years in Sheffield for auctioning two Lithuanian girls for £3,000 each at a coffee shop in Gatwick. Two weeks ago, two Moldovans were jailed for bringing 600 women into Britain illegally and forcing them into prostitution. On Friday at Cardiff Crown Court, a 21-year-old Lithuanian claimed that she was tricked into coming to Britain for a better life only to be sold into prostitution for £5,000 to three Albanians.

    Back at her flat Irina stubs out another cigarette. I ask her what would it take for her to flee this life of sexual servitude. She stares at a kitsch painting of a child on the wall and says, wearily: "I don't know. It is dangerous. They would get me or my family. What else could I do? Where could I go?"

    • Some names have been changed

    Associated Topics

    Porn, Prostitution, Sex IndustrySexual Violence

         myth-heard by men
    Women were created from the sediment of the sins of demons, to serve as temptation to sinners... They are of value only as vehicles for the entry into the world of spirits condemned to take on temporary flesh as punishment for their sins...women themselves, however, being without soul. -Omm-Al-Kitab (Scripture of the Shi'ite Sect of Islam

         ms-heard by women
    I'd rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I have said. I would consider it an honor to spend whatever years are necessary in prison as the one member of the race who protested, rather than be with all the 11,999,999 Negros who didn't have to go to prison because they kept their mouths shut. -Ida B. Wells-Barnett

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