Girls in their early teens are being trafficked to Northern Ireland and forced into prostitution and servitude “right under our noses”, the Assistant Chief Constable warned yesterday.
During a Public Accounts Committee hearing at Stormont, ACC Drew Harris revealed how officers recently rescued a young orphaned girl who was trafficked to Northern Ireland through four different countries in what he described as “modern slavery”.
The teenager was one of 20 people who the PSNI have rescued from human traffickers in Northern Ireland since 2006.
“This juvenile was trafficked in her early teens,” he said. “She was orphaned a year ago and then found herself in Northern Ireland in the most grim of circumstances. This is happening right under our noses. The brothels are in rural areas as well as town centres and in apartment blocks. They are happening within sight.”
The ACC was giving evidence alongside Detective Chief Superintendent Roy McComb to a committee on combating organised crime.
Mr McComb described how the young girl, who is now a ward of court, had no idea where she was when police rescued her. “All she knew was that she had moved four times to four different countries before she got here. This is sex exploitation or slavery that is happening everyday in modern western democracies.”
ACC Harris also issued a stern warning to people using trafficked prostitutes that “the law will catch up with them soon”.
He described how currently prosecution of someone who has paid for sex with a person they believe to have been trafficked is very difficult.
“We know punters who have been introduced to an individual (for sex) who they know appears distressed or under duress and have declined. Now that is a one-off story. There are other punters who are ignoring the signs. The criminal law is going to catch up with them soon.”
Mr Harris described how tens of thousands of pounds in profits can be made from a single prostitute.
He revealed that the PSNI had recovered 20 people who had been trafficked into Northern Ireland for prostitution, domestic servitude or other businesses.