Police have arrested a man in Hartlepool today as part of a rape and human trafficking operation.
Cleveland Police confirmed the 54-year-old man had been arrested in the town on suspicion of conspiracy to commit rape and human trafficking in the town.
He was arrested today and currently remains in custody.
The arrest came as part of Operation Cotton and police said a 38-year-old man was arrested in February in Stockton on suspicion of the same crimes in that town and has since been released under investigation.
Fifteen other men have been arrested, one in December 2016, one in January 2017 and the rest in January 2018 during a series of raids in Stockton, Middlesbrough and Sheffield.
Investigating officer, Detective Inspector Chris Stone, said: “Seventeen arrests have now been made in connection with this ongoing investigation. We would urge any victims to contact police or any of our partner agencies, who can offer support services available in the local area.”
Cleveland Police are working closely with the Stockton-based charity, A Way Out, an organisation which tackles and prevents exploitation of vulnerable women and young people.
A Way Out aims to address each victim’s need for safety and supports and empowers them to exit and break free from exploitative situations.
Sarah McManus, Chief Executive Officer from A Way Out, said: “We believe that all women, young people and families should be free to live healthy, whole and safe lives, free from addiction, poverty and exploitation.
“We provide confidential specialist support built around the needs of the women at their own pace. We also offer a non-judgemental place with honest, friendly workers who each have a sole focus of keeping women safe.
“A Way Out provides the space for women to be listened to and to be taken seriously and we would urge any woman who believes they have been affected by sexual abuse and exploitation to come and see us or call us directly on 07538 496309, Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm. We promise to do everything in our power to keep you safe, prevent further harm and to give you all the support and help that you need.”
Police are asking that anyone with information which might assist this investigation, perhaps by recognising that they too have been the victims of such abuse, contact Cleveland Police on 101.
Other places victims can get support is Teesside Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) at www.sarcteesside.co.uk, Barnados at www.barnardos.org.uk and Arch at www.archnortheast.org.