There has been a significant increase in ‘pop-up’ brothels in private rented accommodation, police have said.
Counties where they are particularly prevalent are said to include Wiltshire, Somerset, Bristol and Gloucestershire.
However, it is in Newquay, Cornwall, that the problem is apparently at its most acute: 14 holiday lets being used as temporary sex dens have been discovered in the last six months alone.
Pimps and prostitutes book the accommodation, turn it into a temporary brothel for a week, and then move on.
Police are taking the issue seriously.
Inspector Dave Meredith said: “I don’t think this issue is isolated to Newquay alone.
‘We do have concerns for the women working in these brothels.
“We have a very much victim-centred approach; we are concerned about their vulnerability and that they could be victims of human slavery and sex trafficking.
“What it means basically is that the sex workers move quite quickly; they usually operate these brothels for about a week before moving on.
“They book the accommodation online and the accommodation is usually holiday lets or apartments where the owner is elsewhere and doesn’t know what is going on.
“They book the accommodation online so the owner gets the money electronically transferred to their account without knowing anything, they move in, operate for around a week at the most, sometimes less, then move on to somewhere else.
“Because it is so rapid it is hard to keep up with.
“The evidence that we have at the moment indicates that the majority in Newquay are coming from eastern Europe.
“We’ve got a victim-centred approach, although it is an offence to operate a brothel.
“We do understand that a lot of the women that operate from the pop-up brothels are vulnerable, and instead of arresting them, which is perhaps what police would have done decades ago, we try to signpost them to agencies that can help them, and try to help them ourselves to see if they are victims of sex crime or acting under duress.
“The main thing for us is to treat them as victims and to also try and find out if there is organised crime behind the sex workers who are exploiting them.
“If you live near holidays lets or flats, be mindful of men coming to the premises at all hours, and sex workers who may come and go quite quickly, and if you have any concerns please contact the police.”