Northern Ireland's vice trade shame: Growing demand for prostitutes sees rise in human trafficking
The PSNI is becoming increasingly concerned that dangerous crime gangs involved in human trafficking are targeting Northern Ireland because of a highly lucrative demand for prostitutes.
The force's Organised Crime Branch has warned there is a growing interest in the province for traffickers because of a gap in the vice market.
They said that Ulster's crime gangs are increasingly diversifying into the trafficking trade because of the massive profits that can be paid in the province.
It is estimated by police that between 80 and 100 prostitutes operate in the province on a daily basis.
The nature of the criminality has made it difficult for police to calculate how many of these women have been trafficked from foreign countries and forced into the sex trade.
"They believe however that it could be around 10%," said Detective Inspector Dougie Grant, who heads up the Branch's investigations into human trafficking and the illegal sex trade.
"It is a concern for us that because the market is so great there are not enough prostitutes to service that market and that is where the human traffickers are coming in. Because of the demand in Northern Ireland, and there is quite a significant demand for sexual services from prostituted persons, that is attracting persons who control the prostitutes and persons who traffic into Northern Ireland to service that industry. This is the major concern in Northern Ireland at the moment."
Mr Grant revealed that organised gangs are now moving away from crimes like firearms, drugs, extortion and moving towards human trafficking.
It was not until the beginning of 2008 when the Organised Crime Branch launched operation Pentameter 2 that evidence of human trafficking in Northern Ireland was uncovered.
A dedicated human trafficking unit was set up and a number of successful operations were launched.
Within the past year police rescued 23 victims of human trafficking and charged 16 people with trafficking offences and controlling prostitution.
While sexual exploitation remains the main reason behind human trafficking, there is growing evidence of men and women being trafficked for forced labour.
"This could be in agriculture, the catering industry or various manual types of labour," said Mr Grant.
"It is an area we are progressing at the moment to try and see if we have victims in Northern Ireland and looking at the best way to rescue those victims.
"There have been victims of forced labour rescued although the figures are very small compared to sexual exploitation."
Police have also uncovered evidence of victims being trafficked into the province and forced into domestic servitude.
"This is the third area and is quite a small area in Northern Ireland we believe. Although we have had a very small number of victims of domestic servitude rescued," said Mr Grant.