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Human Trafficking

Police bust gangs forcing Chinese women into brothels

Criminal networks promised victims high-paying jobs in Europe

El Cielo y el Mundo night spot in Parla, which attracted the attention of the authorities.
El Cielo y el Mundo night spot in Parla, which attracted the attention of the authorities.CARLOS ROSILLO (EL PAÍS)

They thought they were traveling to Spain to become hairstylists or beauticians. The reality couldn’t have been more different.

The National Police said Monday that two gangs dedicated to bringing Chinese women into Spain and forcing them to work as prostitutes in the Madrid town of Parla have been dismantled. The suspects are currently in preventive custody.

Police said that 27 people were arrested — all of them Chinese nationals, apart from one Spaniard — while two dozen victims were placed under the care of support groups as the investigation continues. Three of the victims were minors.

According to investigators, the women were captured in their country and brought to Spain under the false promise that they would be given a job with a salary of more than 4,000 euros per month.

They lived in rooms of six square meters without windows or locks

All lived in rooms of six square meters without windows or locks, where they were forced to wait until they had to attend to clients in hotels, karaoke bars, or sometimes the very rooms in which they were being held prisoner. According to the director general of the National Police, Ignacio Cosidó, the women were not left alone for even a moment. Even when they left the brothel to meet with clients, they were always accompanied by someone from the network.

The investigation into the criminal organizations began in 2010 when officers began looking into the activities of a night spot in Parla, which had opened the year before and was frequented by the Chinese community.

Parla, along with Leganés, is the Madrid municipality with the highest number of Chinese immigrants. The particular neighborhood where the bust occurred is also known for other criminal activities: murders, shootings and drug trafficking.

The two particular gangs implicated in the arrests were rivals vying for control of the Chinese prostitution market in southern Madrid. Both groups exploited victims, obligating them to work as prostitutes for at least one year to settle the 14,000-euro debt that they had incurred upon traveling to Spain. The women were permitted to keep 40 percent of the money they earned from each shift, which often reached 300 euros per night.

Spain has the second highest rate of detected cases of sexual exploitation of any European country

The operation that busted the two rival gangs was part of a large-scale police crackdown on human trafficking. Launched two months ago, the initiative has already served more than 200 people with a 24-hour hotline that can be reached at 900 10 50 90. Additionally, the police anti-trafficking email account, trata@policia.es, had already received 77 emails as of yesterday.

Additionally, over the last few months, 236 individuals have been detained for human trafficking or sexual exploitation in Spain.

Although there are other types of slavery, sexual exploitation is the most common in Europe, according to the UN and the EU. It’s a particularly lucrative business in Spain and moves about five million euros a day.

According to police, Spain has the second highest rate of detected cases of sexual exploitation of any European country, only behind Italy. Most of the victims involved come from Romania, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Paraguay and, as in the most recent case, China.

If the detainees are accused of a trafficking offense, they will face up to eight years in prison. If they are accused of sexual exploitation, however, they will face only four.

According to Madrid’s district attorney, both crimes are difficult to detect. “They’re transnational crimes, which makes them very difficult for security forces to track. And although we try to make sure this isn’t the primary evidence, it’s hard to get a testimony from the victims.”

Consequently, he insists that it’s essential for the government to collaborate with organizations that assist victims of sexual exploitation.

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