This investigation has agreed to change the victim’s name and to withhold certain information to protect her identity and preserve her safety.
The following remains an accurate account of the horrific experiences suffered by a young woman in Perth last year.
Jenni Keenan BEM, PKAVS’ Minority Communities Hub team leader, said the young mum had been deeply traumatised by her experience.
“She believed he was preparing to force her into the sex industry,” said Jenni.
“This was when she came to see us.
“One of the team bought her some food to keep her going.
“We supported her to make a report to the police, but she refused to tell the officers the things she had told our team.
“She confided in us that she was worried that if there was a court case, she would have to stay in the UK until it was concluded.
“Having been unable to make contact with her children all the time she was in the UK, she was desperate to return to them.
“We helped her to contact her family, and to make arrangements to get home.”
Cristina is now safely back home in Romania with her two children thanks to her own brave actions and the work of PKAVS.
Perth and Kinross Council could not divulge specific incidents but confirmed they did work with third party organisations like PKAVS in tackling exploitation.
A spokesman for the local authority said: “Perth and Kinross Council and our partners take a zero-tolerance approach to human trafficking and exploitation.
“Where human trafficking is identified, we and our partners will take all available steps to help victims, including the provision of accommodation.”
Sexual exploitation like that suffered by Cristina remains a growing concern for officers and organisations involved in human trafficking and modern slavery.
Last year, 87 victims of sexual exploitation were recorded in Scotland. The vast majority of these (68) were female. At least 20 victims, across both genders, were under the age of 18.
Again, the real number of victims is believed to be much higher, with detection and the cooperation of possible victims an ongoing issue.
Detective Inspector Caroline Gray, North East divisional champion for human trafficking, said: “Potential victims don’t recognise themselves as such and that can make engagement quite challenging.
“We have had that in Aberdeen on a couple of occasions with Romanian females and our assessment would be that they have been exploited but they maintain that it’s not the case and they are happy to do what they’re doing.
“It makes it more difficult to point them to the right support.”
The global reach of human trafficking
Last autumn, Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi’s National Human Trafficking Unit led a co-ordinated raid on properties across Scotland, England and Romania – to take down an alleged sex trafficking gang operating from the Eastern European country.
In the early hours of Wednesday September 9, officers from multiple agencies, including the National Crime Agency and Romania’s Directorate for Countering Organized Crime department, swooped on 31 addresses in the international operation.
Four locations across Aberdeen and Glasgow were raided as part of the targeted deployment led by Police Scotland, resulting in three arrests.
At the same time, five properties were hit in England at Leicester, Coventry and Northampton, while Romanian police stormed the doors of 23 addresses.
Overall, 24 arrests were made across the three countries following 12 months of investigation by the partnering agencies. Three arrests in Scotland, seven in England and 14 in Romania.
A number of potential trafficking victims were also recovered from several of the addresses in the UK and Romania.
The three male suspects located in Scotland, aged 36, 34 and 30, appeared in court on petition last year.
Speaking about the raid in September, Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit warned of the “global reach” of such criminal enterprises.
“Borders are meaningless to traffickers,” he said.
“Their illegal trade has a global reach and crosses national and international boundaries which is why our response has to be co-ordinated across agencies and through international co-operation.”
The alleged gang’s enterprise is said to have reached far and wide across the UK and Europe.
Detective Inspector Calum Smith, Highlands and Islands divisional champion for human trafficking, says the operation was an example of the sex exploitation he witnesses in the city.
“In the urban areas, Inverness, we see sexual exploitation,” said DI Smith.
“That was quite clear where we had an operation which crossed borders.
“It went from Inverness, to Aberdeen through to Glasgow, Edinburgh and then across to Romania and even Belgium.
“Some of the brothels that were being used at that point were in Inverness.
“It’s a moving picture where the movement of victims is dependent on where the exploitation was.”
Monitored, moved around and imprisoned
Traffickers often target vulnerable women who may have previous experience of male violence, suffered separation and isolation from their family or live in extreme poverty.
Often all the trafficker needs to do is to give that woman hope; hope of a better life with the promise of a new job or a move to a new country.
The journeys can begin as smuggling operations where the trafficker has promised an escape that transforms into exploitation and abuse.
Upon arrival in Scotland, the nightmare for these women has only just begun.
Their captors keep them separated from other victims, locked up in private homes or flats where they are used for sexual exploitation.
“Quite often woman aren’t living together long enough to establish a relationship,” said Bronagh Andrew, operations manager at Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) – an organisation which supports female victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland.
“Or traffickers will play them off against each other – one woman will be left in charge of the others and that’s a way for her to get out of the sexual exploitation – she then takes on the role of keeping the others in line.”
Bronagh said these women are monitored, imprisoned and barred from leaving the properties unaccompanied.
In time, once the trafficker has a psychological hold over the women, they will allow them more freedom.
Such controlling tactics usually take the form of threats and intimidation involving family, children or their visa status.
One constant in the victim’s life is being moved from location to location.
Traffickers move victims for a several reasons but it is primarily to rotate girls among sexual clients who want “new” faces and to stop the women forming friendships, either with each other or with local shopkeepers or neighbours.
“Women are frequently moved around by traffickers to meet the demand, local demand from men in the area,” said Bronagh.
“Those who pay for sex are quite often seeking different women, new women.”
In some cases, trafficked women are dumped by their captors when they fall into the later stages of pregnancy.
Others set free may have severe physical or mental health conditions.
TARA supported 95 victims between April 2020 and April 2021, 57 of those were new survivors.
Since April 2018, nearly 300 victims of sexual exploitation have been supported by TARA.
Yen Huang: The 62-year-old Tayside sex trafficker
On November 14 2018, police raided a flat on Dundee’s Seagate, not far from the city’s bus station.
Entering the flat, officers found a 48-year-old woman, dressed only in a kimono, with a male customer who was paying for sexual services.
There was evidence of used condoms, oils and towels and the man admitted to officers that he had seen the woman advertised online.
The raid was part of a surveillance operation into Yen Huang, a 62-year-old Chinese woman who claimed to be a cleaner.
In reality, Huang led a secret life as a sex trafficker and prostitution boss.
The trafficker had approached her victim, also Chinese, at a casino in London and told her she could stay rent-free at the flat in Dundee.
The second victim
Less than a month after the first raid, on December 11, police targeted a flat in Perth as part of the continuing probe into Yen Huang.
Acting on a tip-off, officers entered the property on the Fair City’s Melville Street and rescued a second victim of Huang’s.
The Perth victim had been trafficked from Malaysia and put in contact with the prostitution boss.
Huang instructed the woman to perform sexual services and told her she would be taking half her earnings.
She was also told not to bring many items of clothing as she would be moving around a lot.
Despite the victim complaining to Huang about the number of men she was forced to perform sex acts on, the woman was told to continue by the prostitution boss.
The victim told officers that she had travelled from Dundee and was performing massage, oral sex and masturbation for money.
The woman called Huang during the raid who told the victim to delete all her messages and never contact her again.
Multiple bank accounts and five aliases
The investigation into Huang uncovered multiple bank accounts linked to her sex business and discovered that the trafficker went under five different aliases and was also being hunted by immigration services.
One of the bank accounts, registered to an address in St Mungo Place in Glasgow, was in the name of Huang.
On finding the evidence they needed, officers arrested Huang who insisted she was just a cleaner with no connection to human trafficking or prostitution.
However by the time of her trial in June 2019, the 62-year-old had admitted recruiting the women and enticing them to Scotland to engage in sex work.
Pleading guilty to a series of offences, Huang was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
This investigation understands she has already been released from custody.
The real life of Yen Huang was only uncovered thanks to staff members at a Dundee bank who raised concerns about the welfare of the 48-year-old victim they had seen with the female pimp.
From that tip-off, police launched a surveillance operation on Huang who would eventually claim she was brought to the UK herself decades ago by Snakehead – a notorious gang of Chinese people smugglers.
It is believed Huang and her father entered the UK by boat in 1996 in search of a better life.
The 62-year-old had been working as a cleaner and applied for asylum which was rejected in 2015.
As a result, Huang was required to report to police in Dundee every 12 weeks pending a deportation action but failed to show up twice in January 2018, sparking a police operation to trace her.
The top of the tree
Detective Inspector Marc Lorente, Tayside division champion for human trafficking, says there are reasons to believe that sex trafficking gangs are operating across Tayside and the North East with links to major criminal groups.
“Every big city is the same,” says DI Lorente.
“There will be someone who is facilitating it, and a lot of the time it could be females that are organising it.
“You will usually find that they have been victims themselves and worked their way up the pecking order.
“It will be like any enterprise, there will eventually be someone at the top of that tree.”
DS Capaldi added that, sexual exploitation “is not limited” to just the cities in Scotland, stating: “You’ll find it wherever there’s a market for it.”
Are you a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery in Scotland? Have you witnessed it in your area? Call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. Or call Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
If you would like to speak to our Impact investigations team please email Dale.Haslam@ajl.co.uk.
The Exploited is a special investigation exposing the hidden prevalence of human trafficking and modern slavery in our local communities. Across rural Perthshire and the Highlands to urban Aberdeen and Dundee – victims, and their abusers – are hiding in plain sight.
Read the full series:
- Trafficked women brought to Aberdeen and Inverness and sold online for sex
- London teenagers forced to smuggle drugs into Inverness by organised crime gangs
- Fears Vietnamese trafficking gangs will bring crystal meth labs to north and north-east
- Man injured after being forced to work at Aberdeen construction site with no pay
- Words by Sean O’Neil
- Design by Cheryl Livingstone
- Illustrations and graphics by Roddie Reid
- Data visualisations by Lesley-Anne Kelly
- Videos and photography by Drew Farrell, Steve Brown and Blair Dingwall