Human trafficking, now second only to the drugs trade in profitability, generates up to £7.5million annually. A 40-strong police squad SCD9 has been set up to fight it.
Here, we meet a British trafficking victim and speak to officers and campaigners battling the evil trade.
DESPERATE Sophie Hayes steadied her shaking hand to dial her mum’s mobile number and stammered through swollen lips: “How’s Auntie Linda?”
To the unknowing hospital staff it seemed an odd choice of conversation given the severity of her own situation.
But the 24-year-old’s mother knew it was their secret code that spelled: “H-E-L-P! I’m in grave danger.”
Mum Melanie and stepdad Steve made the nerve-wracking 700-mile journey from Leeds to Milan, Italy.
They knew instinctively it was no gap year gone wrong.
Sophie had fallen into the clutches of an evil human trafficker and was in hospital after months of abuse.
The handsome Albanian who had swept her off her feet in a Leeds club six years previously was not the caring boyfriend who promised an exciting new life abroad.
The 6ft 2ins predator, known only as Kastriot, was part of a multi-million pound gang who traded in human flesh.
He sold Sophie time and again as a sex slave.
Privately-educated Sophie, now 29, says: “I never believed that this could happen to someone in this day and age.
“Our life growing up was fairly normal. My brothers and sisters and I had a good upbringing being in a big family.
“We grew up in a five-bedroom detached house, went to private schools. I never even thought about the murky side of life. Prostitution didn’t even exist in my world. But then I met Kas.
“Now I realise he began grooming me from the moment our eyes met. I was at a low point and so he offered himself up as my saviour.”
Kas moved to northern Italy but the pair kept in touch. Six years later, he invited her on holiday. She recalls: “Kas was funny and charming. I began to see him as a boyfriend.”
But on the third day of the trip, Kas revealed he was not an IT expert as he claimed — but a drug dealer with a fake passport who owed £100,000 to gangsters over a bungled deal.
He told Sophie he had brought her to Italy to sell her body to pay off his debts.
Sophie says: “I tried to tell myself it was all some elaborately cruel joke.”
Her protests were met with a blow to the head and a more sinister threat.
Fighting back tears, she recalls: “He asked me how old my twin brothers were and when I replied, ‘Thirteen’ he raised a carving knife and said that he would get someone to take them away and harm them.
“Then he took my passport. Finally, he drove me to a remote lake and told me this was where he would drown me if I ever disobeyed him. I felt I had no choice. If I didn’t do as I was told or tried telling anyone, he’d kill me and my family would be at risk.”
In a final act of cruelty, Sophie was forced to call her family and reassure them she was fine. She says: “My voice was shaking. Mum told me if I ever got into trouble I should ask her how Aunt Linda was. She said it could be our code for help.” The following night Kas forced Sophie to get ready for work.
She recalls: “I still see the scene in my mind every day. It was like watching someone else acting in a film.
“Kas forced me to dress in a short black dress and stockings. He told me to charge 30 Euros (£25) for sex and I was expected to earn at least 1,000 Euros (£840) per night.
“He drove me down a dirt track that led round the back of a petrol station. I remember dying inside as the first car approached. By the end of that night, I’d slept with eight men more than I’d been with in the rest of my life.”
Sophie sometimes had to have sex with 30 men a night. She says: “One threatened me with a gun, another smashed my head against the window.”
But no one terrified her as much as Kas. Sophie says: “If I fell short of my target he’d accuse me of stealing. He’d hold a gun to my head or tell me to choose between having a knife stuck into me or being beaten with a stick.” After six months of having to sell her body and countless vicious beatings, she staggered into a local hospital suffering from pneumonia and stomach pains.
Only then could she make a safe bid for freedom.
Sophie, who has written a book about her experience called Trafficked: My Story (published by HarperCollins, priced £6.99) says: “Kas threatened to kill me if I tried to escape but I’d had enough. I picked up the phone and used the code word my mum had taught me, ‘How’s Auntie Linda?'”
Kas agreed she could go to the UK briefly for treatment. It was four days before she told her mum the truth.
Back in Britain a friend put her in touch with police specialising in human trafficking. They linked Kas to a shooting in Leeds four years earlier.
Sophie was too scared to press charges but he was arrested over the shooting and deported after eight months’ jail.
She says: “I wanted to bring him to justice but how could I face him in court? What about my family’s safety?”
Sophie has set up her charity, The Sophie Hayes Foundation, raising awareness and offering support to end human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Det Insp Kevin Hyland, who runs the Met’s SCD9 unit, says: “We see girls trafficked into Britain for sexual exploitation, mainly from Eastern Europe.
“It is unusual to hear of British victims but there are definitely more Sophies. We have dealt with other cases.”
Last September, cops found 24 men allegedly being held in a caravan site in Bedfordshire to work as slaves.
Human slavery has passed gun crime in profitability — second only to the drugs trade worldwide — and raking in up to £7.5MILLION a year.
As well as sex exploitation they are trafficked for forced labour, drug cultivation, marriages and organ harvesting.
Simon Chorley, of Stop the Traffik, says: “Between April 2009 and June 2011, 1,664 suspected victims from 92 countries were officially referred.
“British nationals were the seventh largest group, with 60 men, women and children identified. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Source: The Sun, Human Trafficking News Daily