The number of potential human trafficking victims in the UK increased by 17 per cent last year.
While the vast majority of instances were in England, Scotland saw 150 potential trafficking cases, a 3.4 per cent increase from the previous year. Agencies such as the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) fear the actual scale of trafficking is greater than statistics indicate.
Modern slavery is among the most depraved crimes in the world, and one case of trafficking in Scotland is one too many. That is why the Scottish Government has taken forward a robust strategy to eradicate it.
The centrepiece of this strategy is supporting victims in escaping or evading exploitation. In June of this year, the Scottish Government extended the period of support for victims to 90 days – three times the Council of Europe minimum and double that of the rest of the UK.
The government’s strategy also emphasises raising awareness and helping people understand the signs of trafficking. As such, a significant part of this victim-centred approach to fighting modern slavery rests with the public. In Edinburgh, the city’s Chief Inspector, Alwyn Bell, said trafficking is one of the cCapital’s biggest hidden crimes and has called on the public’s help in stopping it.
In light of statistics that show trafficking on the rise, we all must know the signs of modern slavery and how to report it. Police Scotland has excellent online resources for just that.
For example, indications of sexual exploitation include multiple female foreign nationals living in the same address, rarely seen outside, and changing premises regularly. Forced labourers are fearful of their employer and police, poorly integrated with the community, have no days off, and show signs of physical abuse.
Suspected human trafficking can be reported to the police and can also be reported anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers.
While public vigilance is integral to stopping modern slavery in Scotland, so too are our societal values towards women.
Last year in Scotland, the majority of male victims of modern slavery were trafficked in for forced labour, whereas the majority of female victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation. The latter circumstance is fuelled in part by a culture, found throughout the world, that reduces some women and girls to objects for sexual gratification.
Scotland is better than that. The SNP government is pushing for gender balance in public sector board rooms and gender diversity in the workforce. We are combatting period poverty by offering free sanitary products to women and girls from low-income homes. Our record on LGBTI rights is recognised globally.
Trafficking and exploitation are to a large degree a consequence of demand for certain goods and services. So long as women and girls can be legally bought as objects for sexual gratification, the illegal trafficking of human beings will continue.
The underlying theme of all trafficking victims is that they are defenceless. It is up to all of us to defend them. Stay aware, look for the signs, and stand against systems that devalue and sexually exploit women.
Ash Denham is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Eastern. She is Co-Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party-Groups on Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation