Croydon, 21st century slavery and the sex trade

Did you think slavery had been abolished nearly 200 years ago? Not in Croydon it hasn’t.

When you read a magazine article like the one we found in The Observer a couple of weeks ago, you cannot fail but be affected. The piece highlighted how vulnerable children are being forced into prostitution, virtually imprisoned, and all right on our CR0 doorstep.

And what do we do about it? Well, the Croydon Sadvertiser, a venerable paper with a well-deserved reputation for sanctimonious hypocrisy, continues to advertise the very “massage parlours” and brothels which exploit these young women and teenaged girls. Click here to read our coverage from last year of the Sadvertiser‘s front-page “expose” of a “sinister brothel” in Croydon, one which it continued shamelessly to advertise in its classified section.

This month’s Observer article is particularly shocking because of the very manner it chillingly unravels what is going on around us, day-in, day-out. According to the article, compiled with the assistance of local charity group CCAT, or Croydon Community Against Trafficking, there is nearly 500 unaccompanied children in the borough, originally seeking asylum, who are vulnerable to the predatory human traffickers who operate here.

The journalist, Mark Townsend, focuses on the case of one of those missing children, called Joy:

Joy claimed to have merely responded to an advert for work at a Croydon massage parlour at the start of 2011, but the sordid surroundings where she was found, aged 17, in the days before the interviews were conducted – with its Fort Knox obsession with security, its reinforced doors and barred windows – suggest she was a captive sex slave.

In the month Joy went missing there were 491 unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Croydon and it is these, say police, who are most vulnerable to traffickers. No one knows how many vanish without trace into the sex trade, but local campaigners estimate that up to two trafficking victims can be found for each of the borough’s 40 or so brothels. In London, a further 2,103 illegal massage parlours and sex shops have been identified by police intelligence. Few of these victims ever escape. Had it not been for a phonecall on Saturday 6 March this year it is almost certain Joy would never have been noticed.

Clearly anxious, the female caller described a teenage girl detained “against her will at an address in Croydon”.

The officers who arrived saw that the three-bedroom house was no regular property. Steel bars shielded its windows, an iron gate guarded a reinforced front door. Inside, a generous network of CCTV cameras monitored its corridors. The solid-steel entrance “looked like a police cell door”. Whoever owned the place was either paranoid of intruders or keen to keep people from escaping.

In one of the back rooms they found two people: a 5ft, slightly built teenager from Africa with a “punter” – a local man seeking paid-for sex. It was evident, say police, that the teenager’s welfare was at risk. They were relieved. They had liberated a child from the sex trade.

Soon she would be safe, or at least that was the idea. Joy was placed in the care of Croydon Children’s Services and a bed found in the Gilroy Court hotel. This is a “hotel” which, behind its cream-coloured exterior, has numerous crowded rooms where the state sends its asylum seekers, refugees and those who most require the safety net of the state.

An investigation by local campaigners recently identified 12 brothels within a 10-minute walk of the Gilroy Court, and others are almost certainly still to be identified. The concentration is, according to local charity Croydon Community Against Trafficking, partly explained by the proximity of Lunar House, headquarters of the UK Borders Agency. More than 9,000 asylum seekers visit the building each year, many placed in establishments like the Gilroy Court while their applications are assessed.

An unquantifiable number are lured into the sex trade. Of six Croydon brothels contacted one night last month, the women on duty represent a league of nations: three Brazilian, two Spanish, two Puerto Rican, two Chinese, one Thai, one Turkish, an Italian, a Pole and a Colombian. Establishments typically operate under three different names with as many telephone numbers, but the address remains the same, and so, too, do the women.

CCAT has a page on its website entitled “What you can do”. It includes a standard letter that it asks concerned residents to adapt and send to the Croydon Sadvertiser. Check it out by clicking here.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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