Twelve people have been arrested after a extensive two-day operation which saw police raid homes in Woolwich and Kent linked to the exploitation of sex workers.

Police say they were targeting what were believed to be make-shift call centres, and detectives have since charged three Londoners with controlling prostitution and acquiring criminal property.

Eight pre-planned warrants were executed by Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate on February 16 and 17 in Woolwich, Canterbury and Maidstone, recovering phones, paperwork and more than £35,000 in cash.

This included police storming a property in Woolwich, south east London, on Tuesday, February 16, by battering down the door and smashing glass as they tracked down a fleeing person.

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This warrant led to the arrest of a 44-year-old woman and a 52-year-old man, both from London.

The search in Canterbury on the same day led to the arrest of a 37-year-old local man and two people from Folkestone, a 59-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman.

Another woman was arrested for immigration offences. All have been released under investigation and two women were also safeguarded as a result of the work.

Four warrants were carried out in Kent on 17 February, in locations including Medway and Maidstone. As a result, a 36-year-old man from Maidstone was arrested.

Two properties were also searched in London, which led to the arrest of three women from London, two in their 40s and one in her 50s.

Two women were also arrested for immigration offences and a further two women were safeguarded.

Now, detectives have charged London residents Yan Ping Zhu, 43; Chun Ping Shao, 50 and Feng Zhu Lin, 45 with controlling prostitution for gain and acquiring criminal property.

They have all been remanded in custody to appear at court at a later date.

Detective Inspector Kristian Eberlein from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "Modern slavery is a hidden crime and it’s rare that victims come forward. The exploitation of sex workers is often linked to organised national and international crime networks, involved in human trafficking, drugs and money laundering."

DI Eberlein said that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, 'sexual services' are still being advertised in Kent, which gives way for more vulnerable women to be abused and taken advantage of.

"We want to help victims who are being pressured into offering these services against their will and can’t find a way out. That is why it is important we look at all the ways we can disrupt this criminal activity and identify and prosecute the ring leaders responsible for the setting up of such services and the wider exploitation."

Kent Police say they will continue to target brothels, and investigate those behind the arrangement of such services which seek to manipulate vulnerable women for financial gain.

When people are forced into providing sexual services they are being exploited.

This can take place in a variety of locations including brothels, pop-up brothels, massage parlours, hotels and in vehicles.

Those suffering from this abuse, who are transported from one location to the next, regardless of how far and whether they are chaperoned or not, also become victims of human trafficking.