More than 2,000 people throughout Italy -- most of them foreign -- have been accused of human trafficking following an investigation that uncovered minors and adults forced into prostitution and working in sweat shops, State Police said Wednesday.
The four-month investigation did not focus on one huge trafficking ring. Instead, investigators uncovered hundreds of operations, some of them as small as three or four people, said Chief Superintendent Chiara Giacomantonio.
"There were no surprises. Unfortunately it's all well known," Giacomantonio said. "It's Albanians exploiting Romanian women, Chinese exploiting Chinese, Africa on Africa."
Most of the people running the operations and their victims came from countries in Eastern Europe, including Moldavia, Albania and Romania, as well as countries in Asia and Africa, Giacomantonio said. Some prostitutes were brought in from Iraq, she added.
Of those accused, 784 have been detained, and 1,311 were released pending legal proceedings, police said. The accusations are of exploiting prostitution and favoring illegal immigration.
"We can't say we've defeated the phenomenon of human trafficking, but we have dealt a blow," Giacomantonio said.
Among the most upsetting cases was that of a young girl who was forced to prostitute herself up to her sixth month of pregnancy, Giacomantonio said.
Forty-five women who cooperated with authorities have been granted permits and allowed to remain in Italy, police said.
"Trafficking in women, especially minors, for the sake of prostitution is one of the most despicable crimes to unfortunately take place in Italy," Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said in a statement. "Fighting these criminal groups ... and freeing these girls is a matter of civic conscience of all of us even before it becomes a matter of law."
As part of the investigation, police seized 15 homes throughout the country where the girls were forced to work as prostitutes, four night clubs and three sweat shops. Two of the sweat shops were for textiles, and one was a hairdressers, Giacomantonio said.
Police said the arrests took place in regions throughout the country, from as far north as Trentino-Alto Adige on the border with Austria, to as far south as Sicily.