MAFIA expert Radu Nicolae thought he had heard it all before he sat down with convicted people traffickers in one of Romania’s toughest prisons.
But as he listened to a series of horrifying tales about parents handing over innocent children to pimps intent on selling their bodies in the UK, even he struggled to contain his disgust.
“They target young women, as young as possible, and primarily minors,” he told Sun Online in an exclusive interview.
“I asked them, ‘Why do you target 14, 15 and 16-year-old girls?’
“They say it’s because clients pay more and come more often for young girls.
“One guy told me he bought a 15-year-old girl from her father and because she was a minor he paid extra for the father to bring the girl to his apartment in Austria.
“He paid 3,000 euros and normally he would pay less, around 1,500 euros for a minor, but it was too risky for him to travel with the girl.
“She was not happy about being trafficked and sold so it was safer for him to pay the father to take her across the border and then transport her to the final destination – I don’t know where, probably England.
They treated women like animals
“I did my best to prepare myself psychologically for these meetings and I try not to pass judgement, but it was not easy.
“What was striking and obvious was that these men do not have any empathy for other human beings.
“They treated women like animals – objects to make money from – and so they could not see they were doing anything wrong.”
Bleak booming business in Britain
Sun Online’s investigation into the trafficking of minors comes after a European Commission report warned that 10 times more children are being smuggled out of the country than the last time they analysed the figures, in 2016.
At the same time, police raids in Leicestershire and Northumberland have shown that up to 86 per cent of women working in some British brothels are now from Romania.
From expensive strip clubs in London to gloomy street corners in Leeds, the UK sex industry is littered with stories of so-called ‘Roms’ selling their bodies for hard cash.
We can reveal that the women are often trafficked as teenagers then forced into the sex industry by money-hungry gangs that milk them for every penny.
And the profits to be amassed are huge. With each prostitute making between £500 and £700 a day from servicing multiple ‘clients,’ their pimps can rake in £12,500 a month – or £135,000 a year – from a single girl.
Yet the women themselves are often left destitute as they are ordered to hand over all the cash they make to the men that stole them as children.
The Sun wants to Stamp out Slavery
Slavery takes a variety of forms, but most commonly forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic work or forced criminal activity.
The Home Office estimated that there are 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK, with the Global Slavery Index suggesting the figure could be as many as 136,000.
The UK recognised a staggering 5,145 victims from 116 countries in 2017, including adults who had been used for organ harvesting and children that were forced into sexual exploitation.
Our Stamp Out Slavery campaign, in conjunction with Co-op, has highlighted the plight of some of Britain’s slaves working in car washes and nail salons, farms and factories all over the UK.
We called on the government to extend support for Britain’s slaves beyond the current 45-day limit and backing Lord McColl’s private members Bill demanding support be extended to a year.
In April last year, a high court judge suspended the paltry time limit and said it should be subject to a full judicial review.
Desperate attempts to escape ‘living hell’
In Romania, experts say that so much money is now involved that the trafficking gangs have corrupted government officials.
Organised crime expert Radu, who is President of the Syene Centre for Education in Romania’s capital Bucharest, was able to interview ex-cons in Jilava, Rahova, Giurgiu and Poarta Alba prisons in 2018.
He found that while some girls are sold by their parents, others are persuaded to move abroad by so-called ‘lover boys’ who promise a better life in Britain.
He said: “The perpetrators told me that the UK has good clients and good money.
“I remember one man was moving from one town to another across the UK because the clients needed novelty.
“Once he started noticing that the clients were not tipping so well or coming as often, he would take the victims to another town and stay three or four months there.
“This business model was very rewarding as clients would pay up to £500 for odd services and £200 for normal services.
“The traffickers target vulnerable people and I think Covid has made things worse in Romania.
“We have entire rural areas that are very poor with a lack of opportunities and families where drinking and violence is normal.
They don’t realise that the nightmare they experience in Romania is better than the nightmare in the UK
“If you are raised in a family where your drunk father is beating you and might even rape you, then meeting a man with a luxury car that promises a dream life abroad is tempting.
“They don’t realise that the nightmare they experience in Romania is better than the nightmare in the UK. They just want to escape the hell they are living in.”
Cop crackdown on sick epidemic
In July, brothers Ilcic Dumitru, 19, and Ioan Dumitru, 24, were jailed for forcing a female ‘sex slave’ to sleep with up to 15 men a day.
The men convinced their 20-year-old victim to fly to Luton airport on the promise of a factory job but then took away her travel documents and beat her when she refused to do their bidding.
Woolwich Crown Court heard that the Romanian brothers, who lived in Plumstead, south London, made up to £1,000 a day from the woman by forcing her to pick up men on the street.
They even made her carry on working as a prostitute when she became pregnant with a client’s baby.
She was only able to escape when a man took pity on her and gave her a mobile phone to call her family back in Romania, who then alerted the police.
Ilcic Dumitru was jailed for 15 years and three months for conspiracy to traffic into the UK for sexual exploitation, conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and supplying Class A drugs – cocaine.
Ioan Dumitru was jailed for 16 years for sex trafficking and conspiracy to hold a person in servitude.
The Salvation Army says it helped 2,592 victims of modern slavery in the UK last year – a 15 per cent rise on the previous 12 months.
Of these, 33 per cent – or 848 – experienced sexual exploitation. Romanian trafficking victims were the fifth most common out of all the people they helped.
However, a spokesperson said the true figure is likely to be higher as many of the women flagged up to them refuse to cooperate as they are too scared of the gangs.
London appears to be the capital of the problem as most human trafficking victims – 49.5 per cent – are rescued from there.
In early November police entered a brothel in south-east England after a tip-off and found eight Romanian women wearing face shields and masks, with an industrial-size bottle of hand sanitiser next to the front door.
Officers discovered the brothel was run by a criminal gang and raking in around £1m a year.
Meanwhile, Leicester Police investigated 156 brothels between 2016 and 2018 and found that 86 per cent of the women inside were Romanian.
Romanian women are reluctant to go to the police
Cristina Huddleston, a victim support specialist with the charity Justice and Care, told a newspaper: “I’ve worked with over 600 victims from 24 different nationalities but the vast majority of women we find in brothels linked to organised crime and sexual exploitation are Romanian.
“Yet Romanian women are reluctant to go to the police.”
Vulnerable orphans targeted
Laetitia Gotte is the president of Asociatia Free, a group that supports sex trafficking survivors in Romania.
She said: “Our girls keep going back and forth to the UK. Germany and the UK are the two main destination countries.
“Many of them have children here so they come back to see their kids.
“Usually when they come back they have no money and are in the same situation. It could be drugs, it could be pimps or lover boys.
“Pimps will sometimes target girls living in orphanages because they are very vulnerable and they are looking for a way out.
“The pimps will attract them by becoming the father figures they never had.
It’s very damaging for the girls
“I’ve seen mothers traffic their daughters and we’ve seen cases where staff at the orphanages have been involved in the trafficking of minors.
“It’s very damaging for the girls. The trauma is close to PTSD. You see how broken they are and how hard it is to restore them, it’s almost impossible.”
Nine-year-old girls prostituted
Law lecturer Silvia Tabusca says modern day slaves have become one of Romania’s most valuable exports with both young boys and girls sent overseas to make money for Fagin-like gangs.
She said: “The fight against human trafficking here is only on paper, nothing happens at the institutional level.
“The level of corruption is large and the networks are very powerful. They are able to control not only the police department but also other institutions.
“This is unacceptable to me.
“Most boys are exploited for petty crime and drug trafficking now but when girls reach 13, they are forced into prostitution.
“We’ve had cases where girls as young as nine-years-old are made to sell their bodies and that is just crazy.
“We have identified two main recruiting methods.
“One is when the family is in debt to the crime network after borrowing money – 500 euros or so – for their basic needs.
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“They will hand their child over to the gang, who will then take them abroad.
“But the gang will often complain that the child is not earning enough and the expenses are higher than the income. They will say, ‘This child is lazy, we need to take another one.’
“And the family will give them another son or daughter in an effort to finally pay off the gang.”