Anti-trafficking campaigners from StreetLight claim five or six brothels operate in Horsham at any one time.
“In Horsham it’s a much bigger problem than I first thought, and it’s very organised,” the leader of Horsham StreetLight told the County Times. “It’s not a massive issue, but we don’t want it to become one,” said the Christian campaigner who wished to remain anonymous.
Prostitute ‘pick up and drop off points’ as well as suspected brothels running in and around the town centre are targeted by the church group which takes to the streets most Friday nights in a bid to help victims escape the sex trade.
Women are dropped off by a so called ‘pimp’ and picked up by a client in exchange for money at various points, including Swan Yard, off the Carfax, Chart Way as well as Hop Oast Park and Ride carpark. But the group’s main focus lies on the Carfax and Bishopric.
Escorts in the Horsham district can be hired for an average of £300 for two hours, with websites advertising local hotels and pick up points.
One online site trading with Sussex in its name offers women in Horsham 24 hours a day seven days a week. Prices fluctuate with ‘top duo escorts’ at around £1,800 per night.
“But I’ve known women that have sold themselves for a tin of baked beans,” the local StreetLight project leader told the County Times on a recent Friday night patrol.
“We’ve got to remember that this a business, it’s all about money,” she added.
“In this area we have the personal escorts for the businessman flying in from America. So the women may get wined and dined, but they’re still getting exploited as far as we’re concerned.”
Speaking of the average age of girls in prostitution, she said: “It’s horrific. Ten years ago it would have been 25 to 27, now it’s 15 to 16, some as young as 12. [Pimps] see it as the younger the better.”
She explained these figures can be applied across the entire country, with most women involved originally from China or eastern Europe.
Horsham StreetLight launched in March this year.
It followed an extensive training programme which lasted more than 12 months and covered everything from listening skills to alcohol and drug knowledge, and lessons in understanding urban slang used in the world of prostitution.
Twenty volunteers have been trained to deal with such life-threatening scenarios as gun-point intimidation.
Each patrol investigates areas they deem hotspots across Horsham.
These volunteers play a pinnacle role in gathering information which is then relayed to Horsham police.
Since March the project has pinpointed a number of hotspots which are now being closely monitored.
The group has enjoyed success in gathering vital information to help both the police and victims.
But volunteers are well aware of the dangerous world they are entering, with past incidents a stark reminder.
The project leader explained: “We always go out in teams of three in terms of safety.
“We had an incident where two drove up to Hop Oast and became quickly aware of another car there. This car followed them, threatening them bumper to bumper out of the car park.”
They suspected the car had been waiting for another to arrive so an escort handover could be made.
She added: “We always need someone else watching. We are going into a world that is very dangerous and unpredictable. You need to be prepared to respond.”
Throughout their late night stints StreetLight has drawn attention to how vulnerable girls fall into the sex trade.
“One of our teams was approached by girls who had been drinking and asked them for some money to get home,” she said.
“And that’s where it could all start.
“Some of the girls we see walking around Horsham town are targets of what we call the Lover Boy. These are people who befriend the women and really build their trust before putting them to work. It’s not about sex or money to them, it’s about control and power.”
For more information about StreetLight go to the charity’s website.
or people can call or text 07562601907. All communication will be treated confidentially.