MEN who use prostitutes forced into sex by greedy people-traffickers are rapists, a minister said yesterday.
Home Office minister Paul Goggins hit out as he launched a new drive to tackle the growing international sex trade.
He told the Mirror in an exclusive interview: "Reports show a massive increase in the number of British men using prostitutes.
Men should be aware that many of these women have been forced to come here against their will to work in the sex trade.
If they're having sex without their permission, there's no other word for it - it's rape.
In 2007, it will be the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Yet now we have this new slavery on our doorstep."
Increasing numbers of young women, especially from Eastern Europe, are being conned into coming to Britain with promises of holidays and jobs only to end up captive and forced into sex.
The Home Office is now launching a four-month consultation into the best way to protect them.
More cash may be made available to increase the number of prosecutions.
Women from countries known for their sex gangs could be interviewed when they arrive at UK borders. They would be asked if they were sure they were not being duped and told how to get help if things went wrong.
An agreement has already been signed allowing British police to work with their counterparts in countries affected by the trade.
More money is being spent on campaigns in Eastern Europe, warning young women about the dangers of travelling to the West.
There is also more help for those who have already fallen victims of the vice trade.
Former hookers rescued from the streets are often reluctant to return to their families because of the stigma of prostitution.
The Poppy Scheme, which gives aid and support to the women, is having its funding boosted to cope with the scale of the problem.
Mr Goggins said: "When you meet these women you can't help but be impressed by their courage given the terrible things that have happened to them. You can't blame them for being scared of going home and ashamed of having been a prostitute.
We want to give encouragement to groups in their own countries to help them integrate back into society and to protect them from again falling prey to the trafficking gangs."
Mr Goggins admitted the Government had yet to agree to campaigners' demands for sex-trafficked women to be treated like rape victims.
Calls for the women to be granted asylum in the UK, and to be allowed a "cooling-off period" to decide whether they wanted to go ahead with a prosecution, are also still being considered.