Homes belonging to Cheltenham Borough Council could be used as safe houses
HOMES belonging to Cheltenham Borough Council could be used as safe houses for women exploited by the town's sex trade.
A council task force looking into issues linked to prostitution and people trafficking in the town is considering delving into its own housing stock to provide refuge for victims of vice crime.
The move could provide emergency shelter for women who are trafficked into the town against their will and forced to work in brothels.
Councillors discussed the idea at a meeting with police behind closed doors last week as part of an ongoing inquiry into the town's sex trade led by Councillor Barbara Driver (C, Lansdown), who has called for issues linked to it to be tracked more effectively.
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She said afterwards it was just one way the authority might be able to help the unseen victims of the town's seedy sex trade.
"The question over housing was asked at the meeting and we have said it is something we will consider," she said.
"That is as far as it has gone at the moment. The whole exercise of looking into Cheltenham's sex trade is to look at whether people are being exploited and what, if anything, the council can do to help.
"This is one of many ideas being considered as we continue to talk to people from all the different agencies."
Cheltenham has endured persistent problems with sex crime in the past.
In 2008, it was at the centre of a nationwide police swoop in which vice dens across the town were raided. Last month a couple from the town were charged with conspiring to run brothels in Suffolk Road and Pittville Lawn.
Historically, some of the women found working in such establishments have been trafficked into the area from the Far East.
Mew Ning Chan, chairwoman of the Gloucestershire Chinese Women's Guild, which works to support vulnerable Chinese women in the county, said the idea of providing secret refuges was worth pursuing.
"Sometimes girls come over here without language skills so they can be very vulnerable," she said.
"They can end up in bad situations if they are relying on the wrong kind of people."
The matter was raised at a time when borough council housing was at a premium.
The authority owns 5,073 homes in the town – all of which are occupied. There are 3,765 people in Cheltenham on the waiting list for housing.
Cheltenham Borough Homes refused to comment.