Police believe triads have been forcing women into sex slavery in Londonderry and Belfast under threat of extreme violence, according to a Department of Justice vice report.
The report reveals the women were tricked into coming to Northern Ireland to “carry out cleaning and nannying jobs but were forced into prostitution through extreme violence” by triad gangs.
Pop-up brothels - operating for 2-4 weeks at a time - may also be in operation in the city, the report suggests, with the brothel-based prostitution exploiting mostly forgeign women, while the street prostitution is being dominated by local women.
Chinese ‘snakehead’ gangs - a branch of the notorious Triad organised crime group - are said to have been involved in smuggling prostitutes through Stranraer to destinations including Belfast and Londonderry, with local paramilitary groups also said to have been involved in the vice trade.
The research paper investigates a range of issues for women in Northern Ireland involved in prostitution and also contends local women are also being groomed and trafficked internally throughout Northern Ireland.
The report is based on the evidence of three PSNI officers responsible for investigating prostitution and human trafficking in Northern Ireland, two based in Belfast and one in Londonderry, amongst other sources.
It said the PSNI believed that “one prostitution ring was run by the Chinese mafia and that all of the rescued women were Chinese.
“They were tricked to come to Northern Ireland from England under the premise that they would be carrying out cleaning of nannying jobs. They were forced into prostitution through extreme violence,” a spokesman told the Londonderry Sentinel.
Another instance refers to young women being lured from London to become involved in prostitution in Londonderry, south Belfast and Newry. Both occurred within the last three years.
According to the study: “The trafficked women experienced violence and lived in fear of their lives. They were regularly moved around brothels to disorientate them, Financial records showed that one of the brothels made between £180,000 and £200,000 a year.”
Victims are often smuggled through “a significant trafficking route used by Chinese Snakehead gangs is Belfast to Stranraer, where victims are forced to hand in papers to those that control them” the report states.
The Chinese mafia are not the only group to be involved in vice here, with local paramilitaries are also reputed to have been involved.
A Commercial Sex Workers paper compiled for the Western Sexual Health Strategy Steering Group, from December 2008, showed that “one local voluntary organisation attempted to provide outreach to women involved in prostitution in Northern Ireland but was advised not to by the PSNI who confirmed that their safety would be at risk due to paramilitary involvement”.
Eddie Kerr, the former Director of the SEEDS, a multi-cultural support agency for ethnic minorities and migrant workers based in Londonderry, told the authors that brothels in the North West were highly mobile and were moving around to avoid detection.
“This makes it difficult for the PSNI to keep track of the number of brothels in Northern Ireland and suggests that any figures should be taken as an approximation.”
The PSNI Analysis Centre is currently undertaking research on vice trends throughout the province to get a better understanding of the number of illegal brothels here.
A spokesperson for the PSNI told the Sentinel: “Police take a proactive and robust approach to tackling the issues of human trafficking and vice in every part of Northern Ireland. We work with a range of partner agencies to ensure potential victims are treated properly and offered appropriate levels of care.