THOUSANDS of North-East men are paying for sex with transactions increasingly arranged on the internet, new research has found.

A report out today by the Northern Rock Foundation concludes that an estimated 3,400 men are using prostitutes across the North-East and Cumbria every day.

The study, Selling sex for survival: Adult sexual exploitation and prostitution in the North East and Cumbria, found that 1,700 people - 1,468 women and 221 men - were involved in prostitution and sex work in the region.

Of these, around half were involved in so-called survival sex - selling sex for basic essentials including money, accommodation, food, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes - and half were involved in commercial prostitution, which includes sex workers advertising on the internet, or working for escort agencies and brothels.

Researchers found that Newcastle had the most brothels in the region with 20, while Durham had 12 and Darlington 11.

Stockton - around 90 - Middlesbrough - 80 - had the most sex workers on the streets, while other towns including Darlington, Hartlepool, Redcar and Durham had a small number of street workers.

The report stated: "There are some more visible ‘on-street’ markets, with the main areas being in Stockton and Middlesbrough.

"Sex is also sold across the region through encounters outside of a variety of venues such as railway stations, shops and bars, through the practice of tapping, where women will walk around on the street rather than stay in one place, ask for a cigarette light for example and then offer ‘business’."

It added: "The use of social media and smartphone apps with which to communicate and negotiate exchanges has become huge.

"This did not exist when we first began the studies, but has now become a key feature of sex markets."

The research, which started in 2006, revealed that in many cases women and men who were exploited as children went on to be exploited as adults.

The report concluded that society needed to improve the responses to both children and adults caught up in prostitution.

In addition to commissioning research, the foundation worked with voluntary sector organisations to provide services to support those affected.

The services include Barnardo’s SECOS programme, A Way Out and The GAP project, now lead the field in the development of national responses, the report said.

The research was commissioned by Cullagh Warnock, safety and justice programme manager at Northern Rock Foundation and was carried out by Christopher Hartworth from Barefoot Research.

He said: “There are groups here that would not have been given support if it were not for the foundation because they have actively sought out the most vulnerable.

“Through research and development work, they have shone a light and uncovered those who so often go ignored or slip through the net, such as sexually exploited teenagers.

“They have helped organisations to help those in desperate need and what was so great about Northern Rock Foundation was that they have been a brave, supportive and clever funder."

Linda's Story

My name is Linda and I am 24 years old. I grew up in care, in foster homes and care homes. They took me away from my mam because my dad sexually abused me.

He used to beat my mam too and me. He used to drink a lot, he was an alcoholic. My mam did too, but she didn’t beat me, she tried to protect me, but couldn’t. She used to take heroin. Social services put me in a foster home when I was eight years old.

I used to run away a lot, even went back to my mam, but she was with other people or off her face and didn’t have time for me.

I was raped when I was ten by a guy I met when I had run away. Nothing got done about it.

They said it served me right because I ran away. I think it was from this point on when I stopped caring for myself, I had been abused so much I just felt that it was my life, I thought ‘I am here to be abused’. I started drinking and taking drugs, like crack and heroin, and having sex with men for drugs and when there were no drugs, for money to buy drugs.

I have been beaten and left for dead, so out of it that I was gang raped and then beaten and left. I have had nothing all my life.

Whenever I have needed anything else, like food, cigarettes, a drink when there were no drugs, I have just had sex for it. That’s what I do.