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What is human trafficking and exploitation?

Human trafficking and exploitation are crimes that involve trading human beings as commodities and exploiting them for profit or personal benefit. Some examples of the forms of exploitation to which victims can be subjected are:

  • Sexual – including commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution, pornography, lap dancing and stripping.
  • Labour – e.g. factory, agricultural, food industry, care work, hospitality industry, construction
  • Domestic Servitude – e.g. housework, cooking, childcare
  • Criminal – e.g. cannabis cultivation, shoplifting, petty crime, fraud (benefits/identify thefts), forced and sham marriages
  • Organ Removal

These crimes that can be committed against men and women, adults and children, UK citizens and non-UK citizens. Travel from one place to another is not a required action for there to be an offence of human trafficking in Scotland and it does not matter if the victim ‘consented’.

How would I know if someone could be a victim of trafficking?

Listed below are some of the signs that might indicate trafficking. This is not an exhaustive list. If you have any concerns about an individual or a situation please use the contact details in the section below.

Physical Appearance
  • Show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, anxious/ agitated or appear withdrawn and neglected. They may have untreated injuries.
  • Rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control, influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
  • Relationships which don’t seem right – for example a young teenager appearing to be the boyfriend/ girlfriend of a much older adult.
Poor living conditions
  • Be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and / or living and working at the same address.
Restricted freedom of movement
  • Have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.
  • Have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents retained, e.g. passports
Unusual travel times
  • Be dropped off / collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night.
  • Unusual travel arrangements- children being dropped off/ picked up in private cars/ taxis at unusual times and in places where they it isn’t clear why they’d be there
Reluctant to seek help
  • Avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.

Who should I contact?

If you suspect someone - adult or child - may be a victim of Human Trafficking please contact 999 in an emergency.

Otherwise you can contact

What support is available for victims in Scotland?

Support and assistance to potential and confirmed adult victims of trafficking is provided through two support organisations:

  • Migrant Help (0141 884 7900 (daytime) 0141 212 8553 (out of hours)) and
  • TARA (0141 276 7724 (anytime)).

TARA provides support to women trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and Migrant Help provides support to all other adult victims.

Child trafficking and exploitation is child abuse. Where a child is suspected of having been trafficked, care and support is provided through local authority social work services. Where a concern is raised, Police Scotland will make contact with the relevant local authority social work service but they can also be contacted directly. Information about Scottish local authorities can be accessed here.

Legislation and guidance

  • The relevant legislation in Scotland is the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015.
  • A guide to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 is available.
  • On 30 May 2017, the Scottish Government published a Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy setting out how the Scottish Government and others will tackle human trafficking in Scotland.
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