Six people have been arrested in a major operation after reports of human trafficking.
Police raided a number of addresses across the North East and South Yorkshire this morning as part of a major ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation and human trafficking.
They were supported by officers from Immigration Enforcement who were checking for immigration offences.
Six arrests have currently been made from a small number of properties across Stockton. Addresses in Middlesbrough and Sheffield were also raided by police.
Assistant Chief Constable Jason Harwin said: “Human trafficking, the exploitation of the most vulnerable in our communities by the most ruthless, will not be accepted. Today Cleveland Police, with partners locally and in other parts of the country, has acted, in strength, to tackle those who seek to benefit from the suffering of others.
“Our message is clear, to those who are victims of this vile abuse; there is hope. We are on your side; we can and will help you. We are here for you, and we are stronger and more determined than your abusers.
“To those who traffic in human beings, in human lives, who seek to gain from fear or weakness, our message is unequivocal; we are strong, we are determined and we will bring you to justice.”
Police said the investigation is based on intelligence that an unknown number of young women have been trafficked within Cleveland for the purposes of sex over a number of months.
They said intelligence is that victims were raped by multiple men after being driven to residential addresses.
The operation also focuses on intelligence that an unknown number of young women from the Cleveland area have been driven to other parts of the country and have been the victims of sexual exploitation involving rape by multiple men.
Police are unable to give exact victim numbers at this time or to say if any of the victims are juveniles.
ACC Harwin added: “Cleveland Police take all allegations of abuse seriously. Victims are supported by specially trained officers and have access to a wide support network of professionals. Please, if you are the victim of abuse, do not suffer in silence. Talk to police, talk to support groups, there is hope.”
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger added: “Tackling human trafficking and sexual exploitation is not just about police officers, we must all come together as a community if we are to make a real difference.
“I would urge anyone who has been the victim of sexual exploitation to contact police or reach out to Cleveland Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). The SARC is an essential facility for victims of this most serious crime and the support the centre offers victims in their greatest time of need is second to none.”
Police officers are asking that anyone with information which might assist with this investigation, perhaps by recognising that they too have been the victims of such abuse, contact Cleveland Police on 101.
Victims can also contact local charities and support groups, such as the Teesside Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). Contact details for which are on the SARC website at www.sarcteesside.co.uk