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Do you really know what your short-term rental property is being used for?

Girl on bed at Pop-Up Brothel

With short-term and holiday property rentals on the rise, Avon and Somerset Police are asking property hosts to consider if they really know what their home is being used for.

According to the English Housing Survey, one in 10 (12%) of all households had rented part of or all of their home via a home sharing organisation from 2017-18, and the trend is set to increase.

Anti-Slavery Day

In support of Anti-Slavery Day on 18 October 2019 we’re urging hosts of short-term rental properties to make themselves aware of the signs that modern slavery or sexual exploitation could be taking place within their properties.

As much as 42% of modern slavery and human trafficking Intelligence reports during August 2019, were concerning sexual exploitation in relation to off-street prostitution. We are concerned that traffickers are turning short-term and holiday rental properties into “pop-up brothels” to sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls.

The current trend sees prostitutes operating from short-term and holiday rental properties instead of a permanent address in a bid to avoid detection. The properties can be easily booked online and without the need for large deposits or for the tenants to meet with hosts during the stay.

Superintendent Mark Edgington, force lead for Modern Slavery at Avon & Somerset Police, said:
“Pop-up brothels in short-term rental properties are increasingly being reported across the UK and it is important that property hosts are able to recognise the signs of potential modern slavery and sexual exploitation.

“Many hosts are completely unaware their properties could be used for this or the signs they should be looking out for. If using an online booking service, we would always suggest that hosts check the profile of anyone requesting to book their property and read the reviews from other hosts. This can help people get to know their guests and share any expectations about using the property with their visitors. Some online services will also allow hosts to require that all guests provide identification before they are able to book, this can give some assurance that the tenant is really who they say they are.”

What signs should I look out for as a property host?

Property hosts have an important part to play in helping us to identify potential exploitation and it is their responsibility to ensure that any suspicious activity within their properties is reported.

Some of the signs that may indicate a property is being used as pop-up brothel include:

  • Multiple women staying under one roof or a large number of women regularly being brought to and taken from the property
  • Occupants may not be the people who initially booked the property or may change regularly during the stay
  • Different men calling at the property (both day and night) and staying for only a short period of time
  • Property windows blacked out or curtains constantly closed
  • Sudden increase in residential waste at a property or more waste than would be expected for the number of tenants
  • Tenant may request to pay in cash or ask to make arrangements offline
  • Occupants may lack personal effects or identification documents
  • Occupants may appear to be malnourished, unkempt or withdrawn
  • Occupants may be kept isolated and seem to be under the control or influence of others
  • Occupants may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or be hesitant to meet in person to collect property keys

Sergeant Emma Slade, with responsibility for policing on and off street prostitution in Avon and Somerset Constabulary, commented:
“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.

“If hosts are able to assist with identifying premises that may be being used to sell sex, they will be helping to protect those people inside who are often being forced and manipulated into prostitution. 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. 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 that may be the crucial missing link to an investigation.”

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said:
“One victim of modern slavery is one too many and this issue cannot be tackled in isolation. We all have a role to play in being a louder voice for the vulnerable women who were promised a new life but are now victims of exploitation and violence. Let’s not forget that pop-up brothels could be happening in the house next door to you, in your street or in your community and we all need to be aware how to spot the signs to help us end modern slavery once and for all.”

If you have any information on a pop-up brothel or if you have concerns that your rental property is being used as a brothel please call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. If you believe a person is being trafficked and is in immediate danger, you should call 999 straight away.