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Police warning over ‘pop-up brothels’ in holiday homes

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Somerset force issues checklist of warning signs for property owners

One-Minute Read James Ashford
Friday, October 18, 2019 - 10:34am

Police investigating 50 suspected pop-up brothels in holiday homes in the West Country are urging property owners to report any suspicious activity at their lettings.

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The Avon and Somerset constabulary says almost half of the reports about human trafficking and modern slavery that the force received in August related to the exploitation of women and girls in off-street prostitution,  The Guardian reports.

Operating from short-term rental properties such as holiday homes makes it easier for criminals who exploit girls and women to avoid detection, “particularly those where short-term occupants do not interact with hosts during the stay”, adds the Somerset Live news site.

“Vulnerable women are being enslaved and exploited for sex within pop-up brothels,” said Sergeant Emma Slade, who is responsible for policing prostitution in Avon and Somerset.

“They are isolated and suffer terrible abuse. Many of the women are recruited and trafficked on false promises of legitimate work but find themselves in a very different circumstance.” 

Police making safeguarding visits to brothels found women from the Far East and Eastern Europe who could not speak any English and did not know how to connect with services.

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Signs to look out for:

Avon and Somerset police have issued a checklist of signs that might indicate a property is being used as a pop-up brothel:

  • Multiple women staying under one roof or a large number of women regularly being brought to and taken from the property
  • Occupants may not be the people who initially booked the property or may change regularly during the stay
  • Different men calling at the property (both day and night) and staying for only a short period of time
  • Property windows blacked out or curtains constantly closed
  • Sudden increase in residential waste at a property or more waste than would be expected for the number of tenants
  • Tenant may request to pay in cash or ask to make arrangements offline
  • Occupants may lack personal effects or identification documents
  • Occupants may appear to be malnourished, unkempt or withdrawn
  • Occupants may be kept isolated and seem to be under the control or influence of others
  • Occupants may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or be hesitant to meet in person to collect property keys

Operating from short-term rental properties such as holiday homes makes it easier for those exploiting the girls and women to avoid detection. Short-term lets can be easily arranged online without requiring prospective tenants to meet with hosts or pay hefty deposits.

“We would encourage property hosts or nearby residents to remain vigilant and report any activity that appears unusual or suspicious at short-term rental premises. We rely on the intelligence that we receive from the public and even the smallest piece of information can help us to build a picture,” said Slade.
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