Pop up brothels are being set up in holiday homes without owners being aware, police have warned.
Exploited women – many who cannot speak English – are being bussed into rental apartments and short let cottages to carry out sex work across Somerset, according to officers there.
The properties are being booked by criminal gangs for weeks at a time in urban, rural and coastal locations.
It is said they are increasingly using such places because the temporary address makes it easier to avoid detection, while online booking platforms have made it easy for such properties to be rented without the need for large deposits or face-to-face contact with the hosts.
Sergeant Emma Slade, Avon and Somerset Police’s lead on prostitution, said: “Vulnerable women are being enslaved and exploited for sex within pop-up brothels.
“They are isolated and suffer terrible abuse. Many of the women are recruited and trafficked on false promises of legitimate work but find themselves in a very different circumstance.”
She added that the force was investigating 76 suspected brothels – 50 of which were in residential properties. Several were close to the sprawling coastal building site where the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is currently being developed near to the Bristol Channel.
“We would encourage property hosts or nearby residents to remain vigilant and report any activity that appears unusual or suspicious at short-term rental premises,” she said. “We rely on the intelligence that we receive from the public and even the smallest piece of information can help us to build a picture.”
It is not clear if unsuspecting landlords would be liable for what takes place at their properties under any criminal prosecutions.
But the warning comes two years after Devon and Cornwall Police issued a similar statement telling owners of holiday lets to beware of sex workers using their premises as temporary brothels.
The force said at the time that it had discovered 14 such establishments in five months in the town of Newquay.
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