More than 20 brothels and dozens of sex workers have been found in Peterborough in just a year, it has been revealed.
Many of the brothels have been hidden behind seemingly normal front doors of homes across the city.
The figures were revealed at a meeting between representatives of the Catholic Church, local police forces and the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in Peterborough.
PC Petr Torak, from Peterborough police, told the meeting that within a 12-month period 84 sex workers and 25 brothels were identified in the city, many in ordinary-looking houses. The largest nationality of women involved was Romanian, followed by Thai and Hungarian.
The agricultural industry across West Norfolk, Fenland and Lincolnshire was also highlighted with gang masters from Lithuania operating widely.
Police officers working with the Lithuanian and Romany gypsy communities in Fenland explained how gangmasters exploited vulnerable new arrivals to the area by isolating them from the local community and controlled them by providing over-crowded housing and transport to work in the fields.
They would then take a large proportion of the wages and sometimes passports in return. Workers then often ended up in debt to the gangmasters, giving them more leverage over the exploited workers and their bank accounts, which were often used to perpetrate fraud.
A Cambridgeshire police spokesman said an operation was launched in 2007 to tackle exploitation - specifically in brothels.
The spokesman said exploitation ‘is not a new issue in Peterborough’, and while there had not been a large increase in problems, there was work being carried out to tackle the issue.
She said: “The nature of exploitation of migrants with the large increase coming into the city and county would suggest an upturn in new addresses and workers within the sex trade.
“Proactive safeguarding and communication is maintained with any workers identified who we deem to be at potential risk.
“Officers involved in Operation Pheasant are fully trained in how to identify potential sex workers or brothels having recently completed open source training which enables better identification, engagement and safeguarding, this work has allowed an increase in cohort and addresses that we now know about as a result.”
There have been a number of convictions and arrests made relating to exploitation and trafficking in Peterborough and the surrounding areas in recent years.
Bishop Pat Lynch said: “The meeting was very successful in looking at the challenges of human trafficking and modern day slavery in East Anglia. It built up a strong sense of co-operation between police, the church and vulnerable communities and an on-going commitment to help make people in vulnerable groups and the wide community aware of the issues, the realities and the suffering of people trapped in violence and inhumane treatment at the hands of their traffickers.”