Some of the teenage girls caught in a South Auckland underage prostitution operation this week were being pimped out by gang members who offered them accommodation and drugs in return for sex.
The two-week operation saw 25 arrests on charges including engaging in sexual activity with teenage girls.
It also saw 16 young people - including a 15-year-old boy and girls as young as 13 - being removed from the streets and returned to their families. Some were placed into the care of Child, Youth and Family.
Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Pizzini said the operation - which finished on Wednesday with the execution of a number of search warrants - followed six weeks of intelligence gathering.
"We have known anecdotally that underage prostitution has been alive and well and we know that through some historic sexual abuse investigations."
One of those cases involved the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old prostitute, which was solved a few months ago when the offender gave a voluntary DNA sample.
During the intelligence gathering period, police found a number of young people working on the streets and a large number of people prepared to pay for underage sex. They became familiar with who was organising the teens, who was frequently picking them up and who in particular was looking for underage prostitutes.
Mr Pizzini said that during the operation police arrested 25 people of varying ages on a wide variety of charges. They are all before the courts.
The 16 young people who were picked up were "all actively engaged in offering commercial sexual services on the streets".
Mr Pizzini said some were also living in gang homes where they were controlled by pimps who exchanged sex for accommodation, food and drugs.
He said the last two weeks was "just the start" of a crackdown.
CRACKDOWN CLEARS CORNER
It appeared last night that the police underage prostitution crackdown had scared off the working girls of South Auckland.
Hunters Corner - a stretch of shops in Papatoetoe which is a favourite hangout for prostitutes soliciting business - had only teenage street gangs patrolling the suburb.
And in Otara there were no obvious sex workers on the streets.
However, sitting outside public toilets, opposite the RSA in the Manurewa shopping centre carpark, two women - aged in their 30s and 40s respectively - told the Herald that they hadn't heard about the crackdown but they didn't let young girls on their turf anyway.
"We don't want them around here," one of the women said.
"We're allowed to bash them if they come round here."
However, the pair didn't elaborate on who gave them the right to get rid of the girls.
- Alanah May Eriksen