Taken: Hunting the Sex Traffickers, review: today, people smugglers have nowhere to hide
A woman poses beside a London pillar box, holding up a copy of a newspaper, while an older man takes her picture. If anyone noticed this little scene, they might have thought the pair were tourists. In fact, she had been trafficked from Brazil to work in the sex trade. A photograph taken at a verifiable location, including a document that proves the date, is a requirement for foreign girls signing up to certain adult websites.
This was one of the details in Taken: Hunting the Sex Traffickers (Channel 4), a study of the work involved in bringing these criminals to justice. Much of this work is done by undercover officers, who spoke but could not allow their faces to be seen. The purpose of this film was clear: a warning to traffickers that they could be under surveillance at this very minute.
“You won’t see us in your mirrors when you’re driving, you won’t see us when you’re walking around town, you won’t see us when you’re having a drink in the pub, but we will be all over you,” said one officer.
The extent of this surveillance became clear in one of the opening sequences. A man suspected of trafficking girls from South America to work in a Cheltenham brothel was monitored from the moment he touched down at Heathrow, tailed on his car journey, and followed into a bar. Details from his driving speed to the number of drinks he was having to the activity on his mobile phone were relayed back to the team.
Later that night he was pulled over by traffic cops – unbeknown to him, it was a set-up, allowing police to gain information about his female passenger. It was interesting to see how this work was carried out, but its painstaking nature was reflected in a documentary that is taking three episodes to cover one case.