Hull North MP Diana Johnson has described the scale of sex trafficking in the UK as a "national scandal".

She spoke out ahead of an online summit later today between UK and Romanian politicians over the issue.

Three-quarters of women trafficked to the UK come from Romania and it's thought three-quarters of them are then sold into the sex trade.

A number of recent police investigations across the country have uncovered a 'revolving door' of women being moved between pop-up brothels and hotels by organised criminal gangs.

Ms Johnson, who chairs an all-party parliamentary group on commercial sexual exploitation, said she was in favour of criminalising the act of paying for sex and cracking down on so-called 'pimping websites'.

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Hull North MP Diana Johnson
Hull North MP Diana Johnson

Speaking on this morning's Radio 4 Today programme, she said: "We produced a report in 2018 where we set out that although most men are not paying for sex, those that do are fuelling a brutal sex trafficking trade that is destroying lives.

"We know that a significant number of women are being trafficked from Romania and that's why the UK Feminsta campaign group has convened this online summit today so politicians, policy-makers and organisations concerned about this can get together to talk about what we can do to try and tackle it."

She said there were a variety of reasons why such a high number of women trafficked to the UK came from Romaina.

"There's obviously poverty but there's also an issue around the lover boy approach where men befriend and become boyfriends of women and then coerce them into trafficking.

"We are very keen to look at what we can do to deal with this demand and one of the obvious things is to criminalise the paying for sex while you decriminalise the victims and give them support.

"Also, we have to deal with the problem of these pimping websites which, through advertising in a very easy way, allow men to access women in the areas they are living in.

"That means the serious organised crime groups that are running this trade can move women between hotel rooms and brothels all around the country. This is a trade, it's a business model that we are wanting to tackle."

At the time of the group's 2018 report, there were at least 212 active police investigations across the UK into modern slavery cases involving sexual exploitation.

The report found 40 per cent of suspected offenders in the cases were Romanian while Romanian women accounted for the vast majority of victims.

Ms Johnson said the all-party group supported all the current government measures in place to tackle sex trafficking and modern day slavery but she added: "We need to do much more.

The fact is we have options about what we can do now and one of them is dealing with these pimping websites.

"Priti Patel as Home Secretary could bring forward legislation to criminalise the use of those websites and to close them down. That is one very practical thing the government could do."

She said the government could follow the model of Northern Ireland where paying for sex was criminalised five years ago.

Home Secretary Priti Patel

"When you criminalise the demand for buying sex, you decriminalise the victims. We believe this should happen to start to tackle this trade in human misery and the abuse of women who are being raped and sexually assaulted in brothels and hotel rooms all around the country."

Ms Johnson also called for improved co-ordination between the various agencies involved in the issue.

Adding: "There is work going on through the government and the national referral mechanism but we do need to coordinate this in a better way, particularly because we know the number of women coming from Romania is high."