WHEN young Sylvia * from Brazil was offered a flight to the UK through a ‘friend’, she was convinced she would find a better life..
Instead, she fell victim to a human trafficking ring and found herself working 16 hours a day in a seedy brothel, where punters paid £ 20 for 15 minutes of sex.
“If you come from a poor place, of course you want a better life,” she told The Sun. “But I was working two months without a day off, from 11 am to 3 am, weekends until 5 am.
“There are a lot of clients, ten clients a day, and you hurt yourself almost all the time.
“It’s exhausting. You have people who treat you like shit **. I’ve had so many clients treating me like an animal, I felt like a piece of meat.
After seven years of hell, Sylvia escaped the traffickers and has now returned to Brazil, but an estimated 135,000 more are still modern slaves in Britain today.
Now, a specialized police unit that tracks traffickers has let the cameras in for the first time for a groundbreaking documentary, broadcast tonight on Channel 4.
Taken: Hunting the Sex Traffickers follows the South West Regional Organized Crime Unit (ROCU) through a three-year investigation into Cheltenham con artist Mark Viner.
Viner funded a lavish lifestyle in Spain by trafficking women from Brazil to work in a brothel network.
I had so many clients who treated me like an animal, I felt like a piece of meat.
Program officials had unprecedented access to senior investigators and traveled with undercover surveillance cops as they monitored every move of Viner and those of his associates Lezlie Davies and Rosana Gomes.
Detective Inspector Pete Brown *, who appears in the documentary, says the force accepted the filming to help viewers understand the true nature of human trafficking.
“We all know drug trafficking is a crime, but a lot of drug trafficking takes place much more in the public eye, not just in brothels but in nail bars, car washes or the exploitation of workers in public places. food factories, ”he told The Sun.
“There is all kinds of trafficking and slavery that the public doesn’t see, but the victims often walk among us, so we want to open their eyes a little.
Brothel owners at £ 4000 per week
The case begins with an anonymous envelope, deposited at a Gloucester police station, which contains accusations that Viner and Davies run a brothel in the picturesque town of Cheltenham, along with photos, documents and SIM cards.
CCTV footage revealed Viner was flying in and out of the country, including on a day trip to Amsterdam where he returned with a woman of South American descent.
A search of Davies and Viner’s bank accounts revealed that they were making between £ 3,000 and £ 4,000 a week, although they had no obvious source of income.
The couple rented three penthouses in Cheltenham, with Viner living at number 22, Davies at 24 and the “girls” remaining between them at number 23.
Once there, the women were given profiles on a website – which The Sun chose not to name – offering “adult services” to paying customers.
Foreign women had to prove they were in the UK by being photographed at a cultural monument or something inherently British, with a copy of the daily newspaper in hand before they could get a profile on the site.
Undercover agents followed Davies to London with two girls whom he then photographed next to a red letterbox holding a newspaper.
Police found as many as 800 Brazilian women at the site at one time, offering sex for between £ 70 and £ 100 for half an hour, and charging extra for “special sex practices”.
But a lot of the money goes back into the pockets of the traffickers.
Davies’ bank account was seen to contain daily deposits of between £ 50 and £ 100 from various women with South American names and Viner made £ 1.2million in a year.
Raped with a knife and stolen
Women are also victims of despicable abuse from their clients, and often traffickers as well.
Many report being raped with the point of a knife, beaten and stolen by members of organized crime.
“Brothels are dirty places, dirty people. I have been exposed to drugs and crime, ”says Sylvia.
“Men who go to brothels are not nice. They think that because you are a sex worker, they can abuse you.
“Several times I have been abused and humiliated. I felt the customers were disgusting. I have seen the worst of men and I have never been able to trust men.
They think that because you are a sex worker, they can abuse you.
“I was robbed by men with knives which was very traumatic and left me with post traumatic stress disorder. We are scared all the time but they know we will not go to the police because what we are doing is not legal.
“Once I was working in Oxford and a guy paid 15 minutes and then he took off the condom and raped me. After he left, he would text me saying “I have HIV”.
“He was telling me horrible things. I had to go to the hospital and take medicine for 28 days. Every time I took them I felt really sad because I wanted to forget but I couldn’t.
Controlled by fear of eviction
No matter how badly they are treated, victims of trafficking are often too afraid to speak out for fear of being deported.
Sylvia, who has been trafficked to the UK by a female ‘madam’, says: ‘The people who run the houses are often people who have been sex workers themselves.
“They get old and get bitter because of the misery of doing it for so long, then they stop working and they start dealing with other girls.
“They are very controlling and I felt used by them. They took me to very bad places. They exist to use and abuse women, threatening us with immigration and the police.
DS Gareth Scanlon * of the Victims’ Safeguarding Team says this fear is crucial to the operation of traffickers.
“Fear of deportation is a major controlling factor for traffickers,” he told The Sun.
“Sometimes when we go to brothels the woman I’m dealing with trembles with fear because she thinks she is going to be kicked out.
“It’s part of the control mechanism and trying to break it and build trust is a big problem for us. But we are there to treat them as victims and not as delinquents.
Plainclothes police pretend to be customers
The program offers incredible insight into the work of the Secret Surveillance Agents, who have followed Davies and Viner for months, learning their daily routines, who they met, and even what they ate for lunch every day.
Another team posed as customers to visit the brothel, reporting that there were three girls at the address, including a 26-year-old woman who “offers various sexual services”, adding that “condoms were used. seen, vibrators seen and a sexual conversation took place “.
As the case stacked up, undercover officers became frustrated when Viner left the country for Spain, with DI Brown making the decision to let him go, as more evidence was gathered.
A few months later, in December 2019, Viner was arrested in Barcelona and extradited to the UK. Faced with the overwhelming evidence against him, he pleaded guilty to two counts of human trafficking and brothel management.
“I was kinda relieved because I had taken the risk of not stopping it during the summer,” says Pete.
“We had a case, but we didn’t have the evidence to support a conviction for trafficking. A guilty plea is unusual in a trafficking case because it is a very serious offense, and people don’t admit it unless the case is solid.
“But with the undercover agents telling us what was going on inside the premises, the phone records, the money trail and all the technical work that we did, we had such a strong case that it didn’t had nowhere to go. “
Viner, then 62, was sentenced to five years and nine months and the force is now seeking to recoup up to £ 1million from his ill-gotten gains.
“Trade in human misery”
Davies, 61, and Gomes, 45, pleaded guilty to helping run the Cheltenham brothel and both received 12-month community orders and a ten-week curfew.
“These people trade in human misery, where women are seen as a commodity and a way to earn a lot of money,” says Pete.
“Mark Viner brought them here with the promise of a better life, but we know from the women we’ve spoken to that it’s actually a very dark world.
“We cannot allow vulnerable people to find themselves in dangerous situations. These are lives that are wasted. We have to stop this and the way you do it is to weed out people like Mark Viner. ”
Sylvia, who now lives in Brazil after being deported, has given up sex work. She says Viner’s wealth, exhibited in the documentary, makes her sick.
“Traffickers like Viner are disgusting,” she said. “It makes me very angry and upset to see how rich he was when he was arrested, thanks to the money made from people’s worst nightmares.
“He should have been sent to prison longer. “
Taken: The Sex Trafficker Hunt airs on Channel 4 at 9 p.m. tonight
* Names have been changed