THROWN from man to man before being beaten and burned, Elena was found in such a state that doctors gave her only 48 hours to live.
Her horrific injuries were the result of being forced to sleep with up to 20 men a day – after one she considered to be her boyfriend tricked her into moving to the UK and locked her up in a West Midlands flat.
"There were three of us – me and two other girls. I had to do the same thing every day – sleep with different men," Elena – not her real name – tells BBC Two documentary The Sex Slaves Next Door.
“There were some who'd stay even five or six hours – especially the drug addicts.”
In every city of the UK women are being trafficked and sold for sex – and they could be operating out of your street.
Seemingly normal houses are being used as brothels where young Romanian women are forced into prostitution.
Elena was making thousands a day by advertising herself online, but all money was handed over to her abusive trafficker.
“I was spied on from every angle. He knew everything – when I went to sleep, what time I woke up, how much money we all made, how we made it," she says.
"In a day I was making one thousand pounds.
“Sometimes I made more. All the money I made, I gave to him.”
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In the UK, sex work is legal for over 18s, meaning that police rely on sex slaves to cooperate with them to get a conviction.
There were nearly 6,000 recorded sex trafficking victims in England and Wales between April 2018 and December 2020.
But fewer than 100 completed prosecutions in that time, according to the BBC documentary.
Detective Colin Ward, from Greater Manchester Police, runs a specialist modern-slavery unit, and says the problem is so large police say they only know about the tip of the iceberg.
“Sex-trafficking is rife in the UK. We don’t have anywhere near the true picture of how many victims there are," he says.
“It must be miles bigger than what we know already.”
He continues: “People will have neighbours who are victims of sex trafficking. It’s got harder for us because they could be anywhere."
I couldn't walk or crawl on my knees. I was about to die
Elena's so-called "boyfriend" abandoned her as she fought for her life after being beaten and treated appallingly, leading to a haemorrhage.
"I started bleeding internally. I couldn't walk or crawl on my knees. I was about to die," she says.
Simone Lord – who works for modern slavery charity Medaille – added: "I've never seen anyone in that state before.
"She was repeatedly beaten. She'd been malnourished. She had burns. She had lots of wounds on her body.
"One of the consultants in there had estimated she only had 48 hours to live."
Now Elena is working with the police to help them investigate the sex trafficker who brought her to the UK.
And many like him snare their targets using the most sinister of methods.
Children as young as ten snared with 'lover-boy' method
Iana Matei runs the only shelter for trafficked children in Romania – and she says criminal gangs use a technique to snare children called the “lover-boy” method.
“The lover-boy method is the most horrible method of recruiting girls," she says.
“There are recruiters in the school yards and they talk to the girls.
“I have a 13-year-old girl, Daniella, right here who is desperately trying to get back to her 52-year-old lover boy.
“When she runs away she tells the police, ‘I want to go to my lover boy, he’s 52-year-old and I love him’.”
Traffickers will brainwash girls and then when they are older take them abroad for lucrative sex work.
A loophole in Romanian law means that if a girl says she wants to go with the trafficker by choice, families have no way of getting their children home.
Meanwhile, Romanian police say they are too scarcely resourced to investigate every missing girl.
Cosmin Andreica, head of the Romanian policing union EUROPOL, said: “Every year we have more and more girls who are trafficked. The system is more than broken, the system is overwhelmed.
“We have more than 100 cases of disappearance in each county and only one to five police officers to investigate this kind of disappearance. It’s impossible.”
Missing girl, 15, rang Romanian cops 3 times before murder
In 2019, Romanian police were criticised after missing teenager Alexandra Macesanu’s calls for help went ignored.
The 15-year-old was kidnapped in the notorious trafficking city Caracal.
Using a mobile she found, she rang police three times and told them she had been raped and beaten.
One officer told her: “I can't stay with you on the phone. We have other calls."
They traced her calls 16 hours after she begged for help and then waited a further 10 hours outside kidnapper Gheorghe Dinca’s house.
By the time they entered the property Dinca told police he had killed her and burned her body.
But Alexandra’s mum, Tudorița, believes this is not the full story.
“I don't believe Alexandra is dead. I truly believe that she's been trafficked to somewhere else," she says.
'I'm a victim, I need help'
Victims' lack of trust in Romanian police has a ripple effect once they are trafficked to the UK, with the majority unwilling to reach out to British cops.
“Romanian women, in general, have very little trust in the police," says Det Ward.
“The experience they have with the police in their own country can be really poor.”
“I’ve been doing this for 14 years now and I can count on one hand how many victims have said ‘I’m a victim, I need help.’
“We’re not getting enough cases to court.”
SOLD: Sex Slaves Next Door airs tonight on BBC Two.
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