Britain is among a number of European countries cracking down on human trafficking, a virulent form of modern-day slavery. The UK is a main destination in the international human trafficking market and, in the latest drive to stop the crime, police say they are targeting gang leaders and their trade routes. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.
Joanne is not her real name. She wants to remain anonymous. She says that when she left her war-ravaged home in Rwanda, she thought life would get better.
"It felt like a new chapter, a new life, a new beginning and I was desperate for that," she said.
The man who smuggled her into Britain had other plans.
"He forced himself on me, then he started bringing different people to gang rape [me]. He'll be [he was] paid in the process," she added.
Joanne says her entire family died in Rwanda's civil war of the 1990's and she had no one to help her. Leaving seemed like a good solution, but when she finally made it to Britain in 2000, another nightmare began.
"My first thought was to escape, but to where? I wanted to kill myself, but didn't have the means to do that. I wish I had died with my family," she said.
Joanne is one of thousands here in Britain who have been sold into modern-day sexual slavery.
British government research suggests that 4,000 women involved in the illegal sex trade may have been brought to the country for that purpose, and the number may be twice that.
Authorities say they are tightening controls in a new crackdown in hopes of surpassing previous efforts to curb and eliminate the trade.
In operations last year, police freed 84 women and teenage girls from brothels and massage parlors and made over 200 arrests. Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Kinsella, head of Britain's Human Trafficking Center, says the focus must increasingly be on the gangs that run the trade.
"We need to make this, the UK, a hostile environment for traffickers where if they are involved in trafficking activity, it's a high risk, low profit crime," he said.
The UK is just one of the European destinations for human traffickers, who focus largely on the richer western European nations, such as Sweden, Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands.
Nearby, in the Netherlands, figures show a 25 percent rise in the trade since prostitution was legalized in 2000.
To fight the trade, Sweden came up with a unique law in 1999, criminalizing those who buy sex. The penalty is a fine or up to six months' imprisonment. The Swedish government says the law is working and cites a substantial drop in trafficking.
The United Nations is now recommending that other countries consider the Swedish model.
Speaking in her therapist's office here in London, Joanne says she was set free after 11 months, because her health began to fail and she was no longer useful to her trafficker. She says he let her go, but gave her devastating news.
"He said, 'I have HIV and I'm pretty sure I have infected you as well.' I went to a clinic and found out I was HIV positive which leads to AIDS and I totally lost my mind," she explained.
Sister Patricia Mulhall is a Roman Catholic nun who works with the United Nations in developing legislation to stop the trade in humans.
"A drug is sold, it's gone, but a woman and a girl can be sold over and over and over again," she noted.
Sister Mulhall says the message has to get to the men who pay for sex.
"I think we have to tackle the situation head-on. Look at the demanders and challenge the social behavior," she added.
Mulhall says if the demand stops, the trade could cease to exist. But, Joanne says she is not hopeful.
"It's happening, it is still happening and it's not going to end with me," she said.