Dozens of children were among 207 victims of human trafficking reported in Scotland in 2017, according to a new report from the Scottish Government.
The number of cases referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which identifies and supports human trafficking victims, were 38 per cent higher than in 2016.
The first annual progress report on human trafficking aims to show the impact of the Scottish Government’s Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy since it was introduced in May 2017.
The majority of cases related to labour exploitation with 53 involving children made to work. Women were found to be particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, with 55 cases referred to the NRM.
Among victims, Vietnamese workers were found to be the most exploited, which together with Chinese and Romanian victims made up more than half of all referrals. According to the charity Unseen, trafficked labour is most prevalent in nail bars and car washes.
The report suggests that the rise in reporting is as a result of greater awareness among the public. But the cabinet secretary for justice, Michael Matheson MSP, accepted these figures might be “the tip of the iceberg”.
Victims of human trafficking and modern slavery can only be entered into the NRM voluntarily, meaning many potential victims are not accounted for by the figures.
Included in the report are interviews with victims who had arrived in the UK as a result of human trafficking. Many ended up working in slavery conditions before getting help.
In one account, a 24-year-old Albanian women tells of how she was lured to Italy with the promise of a waitressing job before being forced into prostitution and then trafficked to the UK.
“In March 2015 I was put into a truck and taken to London,” she said. “When I was in London I realised I was pregnant, by the beginning of April 2015. However the prostitution continued until August 2015.”
The woman escaped to Glasgow where she was helped by Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) a Glasgow-based organisation that helps women who have endured sexual exploitation.
“This followed a six week advertising campaign funded by the Scottish Government which highlighted the issue on TV and social media during September last year.”
She added: “Multi-agency teamwork locally, nationally and internationally has led to early successes in improving the identification of, and support to, survivors of trafficking and disruption of criminal activity.
“Close links between Police Scotland and TARA have also contributed to increased victim identification and support. This includes the development of a training package for staff in frontline services such as the NHS.”
Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald of Police Scotland said: “Only by working together with partners and across communities will we tackle human trafficking and end this unacceptable exploitation of people.”
The progress report on human trafficking and exploitation comes as another Scottish Government paper was published on the implications of Brexit on cross-border security.
The paper highlighted “complex and far-reaching challenges”, particularly due to the uncertain future relationship the UK will have with agencies like Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency in The Hague.
In the autumn the Scottish Government is planning a consultation on the issue of guardianships for unaccompanied trafficked children and on the “duty to notify”. This is a section of the 2015 Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act that would see referrals of potential victims be made anonymously but without consent, currently being trialled by City of Edinburgh Council.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Matheson described human trafficking as “a terrible crime and an appalling abuse of human rights”. It targets “the most vulnerable both across the globe and here in Scotland and the impact on victims is devastating,” he said.
“I am confident that working together we will continue to move towards our goal of eradicating human trafficking and exploitation.”
Ailean Beaton is working on human trafficking for The Ferret’s Story Lab project.