ROME -- More than 2,000 people throughout Italy -- most of them foreign -- are accused of human trafficking following an investigation that uncovered minors and adults forced into prostitution and working in sweatshops, police said Wednesday. The four-month investigation uncovered hundreds of trafficking rings, 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 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.
"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," Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said in a statement.
As part of the investigation, police seized 15 homes throughout the country where the girls were forced to work as prostitutes, four nightclubs and three sweatshops. Two of the sweat shops were for textiles, and one was a hairdressers, Giacomantonio said.