Police across Europe have arrested more than 100 people in a Europol-backed crackdown on human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The Austrian-led operation targeted organised criminal groups trafficking vulnerable individuals into EU member states before forcing them into prostitution.
During the initiative, which took place between 26 June and 2 July, more than 126,000 individuals and 6,300 vehicles were checked, along with over 4,200 locations – including brothels, private flats, massage parlours and red-light district areas.
Some 910 potential victims were identified during the operation, which resulted in 107 suspects being arrested for offences including human trafficking and illegal immigration.
Europol said investigators focussed on online adverts for sex workers, and the identification and safeguarding of victims.
Intelligence collated during the operation has led to the launch of 25 new inquiries and efforts to identify additional victims and suspect across EU member states.
Police ran campaigns to raise awareness of human trafficking and sexual exploitation at locations such as airports as part of the crackdown, Europe’s law enforcement agency said in a statement.
“The exchanges of specialist police officers between countries of origin and destination, organised by Europol, have significantly contributed to the success of the actions linked to trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation,” the statement read.
“The nationality of the victims of human trafficking identified, and the suspects arrested during the span of the action week, confirm, at present, the prevalence of trafficking networks originating from Nigeria, South America and Eastern Europe as being the most active in the EU.”
In its latest Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment, Europol warned that the trafficking of vulnerable victims within the EU, often for the purposes of sexual exploitation, remains a key threat.
While many victims of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploration are often lured to leave their countries of origin by false promises of work, Europol notes that some organised criminal groups force people into prostitution with threats of violence against themselves or members of their families.
In the UK, organised criminals gangs are increasingly setting up trafficking victims in “pop-up brothels”, and advertising their services on escort sites and online classified listing services.
Pop-up brothels are typically established in properties that can be rented for a short period of time and then closed down before the authorities are alerted to their presence.
Commenting on the phenomenon last month, Detective Chief Inspector David Cestaro, Bedfordshire Police Lead for Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, said: “Typically, victims of this type of exploitation are tricked into believing they are coming to the UK for good employment, before being forced to work from what have been termed ‘pop-up brothels’.”