It follows new research into sex trafficking showing an increasing number of ‘pop-up’ brothels in the UK.
The study – Behind Closed Doors – suggests websites where sex is sold are fuelling a new wave of short-let brothels allowing women to be trafficked around the country for sex by criminal gangs.
The report found that in last month there were at least 212 ongoing police operations into sexual slavery and last year there were 1,185 referrals for potential victims. Campaigners suspect these figures represent a fraction of the real problem.
The study also found one website alone posted more than 18,000 escort profiles in the last three months.
And one man being investigated for trafficking spent so much money advertising women for sex – a total of £30,000 – that a website gave him his own account manager.
The National Crime Agency told MPs that adult services websites “represent the most significant enabler of sexual exploitation in the UK”.
The all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and the global sex trade says that websites should be banned from advertising sex and women who work in the industry should be decriminalised. They are also calling on the government to make buying sex illegal.
Gavin Shuker MP, chairman of the group, told Sky News: “The government should take measures to end demand for prostitution which means shifting the burden of criminality from those that sell sex to those that buy it.
“But there also shouldn’t be a light touch on these prostitution websites that make it entirely possible to enable an evil trade of trafficking and exploitation.
“It needs government to take action and it needs government to wake up to the scale of exploitation.”
Romanians are the largest group of individuals under investigation, making up 40% of all suspects. Leicestershire Police visited 156 brothels encountering 421 women during the last two years and 83% were Romanian.
But many sex workers say criminalising the purchase of sex will leave them more isolated and make their job more dangerous.
Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes told Sky News: “The number of women who are trafficked in the sex industry is about 6%. It’s very low. It’s not true that most sex workers are dependent on these gangs.
“The whole commotion about these pop-up brothels is not only due to an increase in prostitution in general because of austerity cuts but it’s due to the police raiding and closing regular premises and women being forced to move on.”
Buying sex became illegal in Northern Ireland last year.
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The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, which opposed the legislation, said the job has become more dangerous but demand has not fallen.
Those who championed the move say more should be done to enforce it.