Anyone know the name of the website? Asking for a friend....
A SEEDY world of paid for sex with women from around the world is just a few clicks away on the internet - and there is very little the law can do about it.
An investigation by The Bolton News has found almost 200 people on one adult website alone selling sexual services in the town for as little as £15.
Many of the women are from Eastern Europe, like Monika Stibla, who was found dead in a Bolton alleyway five days after flying to the UK to work as a prostitute.
Her death prompted our investigation into the sex trade and we found a several websites, like the one used by Miss Stibla, presenting a menu of women and men offering any services their customers want in exchange for money.
Ranging from young women to men in their 50s, a total of 195 sex workers use the site, which The Bolton News has chosen not to name, to ply their trade in the town.
Many of them say they have full or part-time jobs and families and ask only to be contacted at certain times or on certain days. Some users of the site say it has made things safer for them because they have more choice over who they meet with and what they offer.
But Dave Bagley, chief executive of Bolton’s Urban Outreach – which works with people involved in sex work – says some of the profiles on these sites can hide deeper issues, including drug dependency, coercion and even international trafficking.
He explained that some people have become involved in the sex work industry by choice, but many others, often the most vulnerable in society, are dealing with wider problems.
“I think when it comes to something that’s not necessarily got mainstream acceptance it’s difficult to keep an eye on,” he said.
“If it’s motivated by anything but choice that’s a problem, but if somebody chooses to engage in the sex industry, if it is absolutely their choice and there are no external circumstances, then it’s down to them to do that.
“The problem is, if there are other issues – such as drugs or money – these individuals become prey to people and groups and they are extremely vulnerable.”
The 2001 murder of 17-year-old prostitute Carly Bateman in Bolton sparked Operation Zero, a major campaign to tackle on-street sex work in the town.
The campaign was hailed a success and Bolton Council insist there is no longer an on-street prostitution problem in the area and a huge amount of work has been carried out over many years to eliminate the problem.
But experts say that has led to the industry to change.
Mr Bagley said: “There’s been a change in the last five to 10 years. The on-street sex work changed because there’s not anywhere near the number of people we used to see, so that’s positive.
“The negative is that we have more ‘pop-up brothels’ – more people being exploited behind closed doors – than we had before.”
And Mr Bagley says the problems which can lead people to turn to the industry continue to be difficult to deal with.
He added: “Our on-street sex industry is often motivated by drugs and that’s not a choice, if the person needs to do business to make money for drugs will they make efforts to keep themselves safe? The more desperate they are the more likely they are to come to harm.
“It’s about how much control people are able to have over their own lives. So even if they’re using these websites and they have more choice, they could still be open to similar difficulties. It’s all about context.”
Another major issue that has been tied to the sex work industry is human trafficking. In the inquest into Miss Stibla’s death, the coroner insisted she had not been the victim of trafficking and had made the journey to Bolton by herself.
However, authorities say a large number of people offering sexual services, particularly those from Eastern Europe, have been brought over by gangs and are exploited in ‘pop-up brothels’, often set up inside residential homes.
Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group ran an inquiry into these brothels, which pointed to extreme poverty faced by some people around the world that leads to them falling into human trafficking networks.
Then, once victims are behind closed doors, their options become increasingly limited.
“The reasons behind someone being trafficked are down to vulnerability,” Mr Bagley explained. “It’s usually poverty, if someone is poor the offer of a new job or a new start can sound positive, but that vulnerable person can find themselves in a situation they were not expecting with few options to get out. Victims of these crimes are at the harshest and toughest end of society.
“The key link here is organised crime, none of this is happening just out of luck it’s organised and that’s what’s behind these problems.”