OBJECT was recently contacted by Gemma Oldman, who thought there was a brothel operating next door to her. Here’s her account of her experience:
I’m writing to share my experience of a pop-up brothel setting up next door to me and the problems I came across trying to report what I think was human trafficking.
I live on the edge of a large inner city council estate on a quiet cul-de-sac. The house next door, long let out by a private landlord, was sold last year. An elderly Chinese couple moved in and renovated. By late spring they had gone and it was unclear who was living there, so many people came and went from the house. I took no notice at first but when I realised that ALL of the visitors were male and mostly white whilst the apparent residents were East Asian and female, I became concerned and decided to pay closer attention. As a follower of ‘OBJECT’ and other pro-Nordic Model feminist groups I worried that I was witnessing trafficking for prostitution. Knowing that brothels are often operated by violent criminal gangs, I was wary about drawing attention to myself, and would not have felt safe doing anything that might have attracted attention, for example taking photographs outside the house.
I noted down the times men arrived and left, a brief description and their reg plates. After a couple of days I was certain it was a brothel: men arrived exactly on the hour, or at half past, and stayed for precisely 1 hour. Sometimes men would drive off with 1 or 2 women in their cars. I never saw them return the women – were they dropped back the next day or collected by their pimp? I identified the pimp’s car, it popped in twice a day. I also saw pimp behaviour – 2 men sometimes stood on the corner of the car park and directed Johns to the house. I rarely saw the women leave the house without a male escort though occasionally they went out the back gate to the shop across the road unaccompanied.
After a week of notes, I thought I had enough evidence to report what was going on. I phoned a human trafficking helpline. The woman there agreed that it sounded like a brothel but was quite insistent that it was most likely choice prostitution: I might not choose that ‘job’, but other women might. She said that because I hadn’t seen or heard any violence toward the women, and because the women sometimes went out alone, however briefly, she couldn’t be sure that it was trafficking. She took the address and reg plate and she told me to leave it with them for 2 weeks. She would ‘discuss it with the team’ and see if they thought it worth reporting to the authorities.
I was stunned – how could this ‘specialist’ think these men would act violently to the women in public! They wouldn’t draw attention to themselves like that. She seemed unaware that women are love-bombed into thinking their pimp is their boyfriend, are controlled by threats of violence to them and to their family back home, controlled financially, by seizing their passports, and by language barriers? They know they have nowhere to go if they leave, and are lied to about being put into prison or never seeing their families again. Didn’t the ‘specialists’ know that the women couldn’t just walk out the door? How would ‘discussing it with the team’ help? Wasn’t every case of potential human trafficking worth looking into? It was extremely distressing to know that on the other side of my wall, women were being raped by dozens of strange men, who felt entitled to their bodies and whichever sex acts they wanted because of the money that they’d handed over.
Next day, and for the next 3 weeks, pimp and punters stopped parking outside the house. Instead they parked down the road and walked up. The pimp car also changed. Was this a coincidence? Perhaps it was down to a neighbour who had taken to shouting sarcastic remarks to punters as they arrived. I can’t know but I find the timing of the change suspicious. Had the ‘trafficking helpline’ tipped them off?
I became angry at how unsafe our little neighborhood had become. Instead of the few well-known neighbours pulling up, careful of children playing in the street, we had all these strange men speeding around. It occurred to me how vulnerable our youngest daughter was, who often plays out with her friends. How easy it would be to pick her up and drive off with her, a thought that had rarely crossed my mind when her older siblings played out. I stopped leaving her unattended, even for a few minutes. As I am a busy mum, to her annoyance this meant she had to stay inside much more than usual. My teenage daughter refused to join in the usual summer water-fights because she didn’t want creepy men looking at her in her swimsuit. We resented this bunch of entitled men restricting our freedom!
After 3 weeks, I called the helpline again. Unsurprisingly they thought there wasn’t enough evidence of trafficking to involve the authorities. Feeling frustrated, I contacted the police myself, dialing 101. I repeated all the details and was told that checks would be made on the house and car owner. They said that if they found anything suspicious they would send officers round, but not to expect it as they would just as likely not. I was left with the same hopeless, helpless feeling that I had after speaking with the ‘trafficking helpline’. Who was left to care if the police didn’t? My MP maybe? With the increased media awareness of human trafficking, how on earth could such a classic case could go uninvestigated?
Two days later the police did arrive. A punter was there at the time, but none of the pimps. They had been picked up in a strange car that honked for them 40 minutes before the police arrived (again, suspicious or coincidence?) The police took 3 women away with them, not cuffed, and I haven’t seen them again. The john zoomed off seconds later, presumably without consequence, no crime having been committed under our law. That was a month ago and while I hope the women have been rescued, survivor accounts I’ve read make me worry that they’re back in the hands of the same men, but in a different brothel.
This experience has really driven home to me what I already suspected, that despite the apparent existence of services to help, our country is woefully lacking in its recognition of trafficking and its response to it.
Well done Gemma for her cool and collected approach here. If what she found is not evidence for sex trafficking, then what on earth would be? We will be contacting ‘Sex Trafficking helplines’ to ask them for their response, and also the police.
If YOU suspect there is a brothel next door (and they are EVERYWHERE) then please follow Gemma’s example, take some notes and photos if you can without endangering yourself by being too obvious. And let us know please.
We suspect that here in the UK we have effectively decriminalised prostitution, without any law being passed. People in the sex trade rightly condemn police raids as just criminalising the women without having any long-term effect, and we hear that corruption is endemic across the board. Many police will be happy if cash is passed over, or they get an occasional ‘freebie’ in return for ‘not noticing’. Remember Keith Vaz MP who thought it was ok for vulnerable young immigrants to be drugged and ‘broken’ by him? While he was chair of the parliamentary committee on sexual exploitation?
We desperately need the Nordic Model here. This makes buying sex illegal (punished with fines) but decriminalises those selling and offers them help to get out if they want to. It is the system in Sweden (where it has reduced sexual exploitation by 50%) and in Norway, France, Scotland, Canada, Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland and elsewhere. In fact, we in the UK are surrounded by Nordic Model countries, which is probably why prostitution is expanding here as in Germany and Denmark. We are in the middle of the sex trade corridor of Europe. And nobody is doing anything about it. We OBJECT.