Pop-up brothels and the signs to look out for

Earlier this week, on Tuesday 23 October, a 36-year-old woman was jailed for offences relating to prostitution and modern slavery following an investigation by the force’s Modern Slavery Team.

Yue Zhu Dong, of Western Bank, Sheffield, was jailed for 22-months at Sheffield Crown Court for two counts of wasting police time and controlling prostitution for gain following her part in a wider trafficking network in which Chinese women are reportedly moved around the country and made to work in pop-up brothels.

Detective Constable Ian Talbot, from the Modern Slavery Team who investigated the offences said: “Dong showed absolutely no remorse for the crimes she had been involved in. It is so important that we tackle the phenomenon of pop-up brothels as although there are many independent sex workers, these are the places where we are likely to see women who are being trafficked for sexual exploitation.”

Specialist officers, based in the force’s Modern Slavery Team, have been working hard to raise awareness of pop-up brothels within the city and to protect vulnerable people.

Pop-up brothels, which are often-short term rented houses or flats controlled by one individual, are a key focus for the team, with sexual exploitation being one of the most prevalent forms of modern slavery currently happening in South Yorkshire.

These brothels tend to operate for anything from a few weeks to upwards of six months and it’s the role of officers within the dedicated unit in the force to build up the intelligence picture around this and act on that to protect potential victims and identify offenders.

Detective Sergeant Nikki Leach, who leads the unit, said: “It’s our job to act on intelligence received that a property may be being used a pop-up brothel, so that we can identify potential victims and safeguard them as quickly as possible.

“There are a few signs you can look out for that suggest a property is being used as a pop-up brothel. For example, there may be women there who never seem to leave, and men visiting the property at all hours of the day and into the evening.

“The property itself may appear as though no one lives there, with little to no furniture.

“Some people may be working there by choice but for others it will be because they feel they don’t have a choice and often we’ve seen cases where people have been trafficked into the country, having been promised a better life and employment opportunities.

“Once we have identified any victims in a pop-up brothel, we will then look to identify and prosecute any offenders, collect intelligence from the area and then look at whether the property can be issued with a closure notice.

“We are continuing to make progress in relation to this area of our work though and continue to receive information about pop-up brothels and associated modern slavery/human trafficking offences which we can follow up.

“I’d urge anyone with concerns to get in touch with us, either via 101, 999 in an emergency, or through the 24/7 Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700.”