Detective Inspector Rachel Miskelly said: “It’s suspected that this crime group enticed young Romanian women to travel to Northern Ireland from Romania, with the false promise of lawful employment in a commercial setting. The grim reality is that, upon arrival, they’re forced into prostitution and exploited.
“So far, six victims have been identified, some of whom are already engaging with us and receiving support.”
Detective Inspector Miskelly continued: “Crime groups involved in human trafficking seek to identify, groom and exploit individuals, particularly those who are in any way vulnerable. Indeed, the victims linked to this investigation, who all come from one area in Romania, had previously experienced some form of hardship, such as adverse childhood experiences and physical abuse.
“These young women have been treated appallingly. They have been forced to engage in sexual activity, and the money made at their expense lines the pockets of the crime group members.
“Whilst the brothels linked to this group were located in Greater Belfast and Newtownabbey, we know the victims have been transported to various locations throughout the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”
She continued: “In order to tackle this criminality, our Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit and colleagues from the Romanian authorities formed a Joint Investigation Team, facilitated and supported by Eurojust. Together, we’ve been working to gather evidence on the suspects and to identify any potential victims.
“Unfortunately, we suspect there be more victims yet to be identified and, with the support of our partners, our investigation will continue. As well as colleagues from the Romanian authorities, we have been working closely with the National Crime Agency, the Public Prosecution Service, An Garda Síochána, Woman’s Aid and the International Justice Mission.
“I would also like to appeal to members of the public for support to help us tackle the very real issue of modern slavery and human trafficking. If you have information or concerns that someone is being exploited or controlled, please report it to us.
“Likewise, if you are a victim please speak to us. We want to help you. I assure you that you will be treated with respect and sensitivity – every step of the way.
“In an emergency call 999; 101 in a non-emergency; or call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 012 1700.”