Police carried out a series of simultaneous raids in Sheffield, Middlesbrough and Stockton this morning in an operation coordinated by Cleveland Police.
Officers drew up the plans for the raids after a woman came forward claiming she had been subjected to a series of serious sexual offences, including rape.
The investigation is based on intelligence that a number of young women have been trafficked in Cleveland for sex over a number of months.
Victims are alleged to have been raped by a number of men after being driven to residential addresses.The operation also focuses on claims that young women from the Cleveland area have been driven to other parts of the country and raped by a number of men.
Cleveland Police described today's activity as a 'major operation' into 'allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation and human trafficking'.Officers involved were accompanied by officers from Immigration Enforcement .Assistant Chief Constable Jason Harwin said: “Human trafficking, the exploitation of the most vulnerable in our communities by the most ruthless, will not be accepted."Today Cleveland Police, with partners locally and in other parts of the country, has acted, in strength, to tackle those who seek to benefit from the suffering of others.“Our message is clear, to those who are victims of this vile abuse - there is hope. We are on your side; we can and will help you. We are here for you, and we are stronger and more determined than your abusers.“To those who traffic in human beings, in human lives, who seek to gain from fear or weakness, our message is unequivocal - we are strong, we are determined and we will bring you to justice.”ACC Harwin added: "Cleveland Police take all allegations of abuse seriously.
"Victims are supported by specially trained officers and have access to a wide support network of professionals. Please, if you are the victim of abuse, do not suffer insilence. Talk to police, talk to support groups, there is hope."Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, Barry Coppinger, added: “Tackling human trafficking and sexual exploitation is not just about police officers, we must all cometogether as a community if we are to make a real difference."
Six arrests have been made so far.