SCOTLAND’S poor conviction rate for human trafficking makes the country appear a soft touch and risks putting victims off coming forward, Amnesty Scotland has warned.
It will today urge MSPs to push for new laws to make it easier to crack down on offenders who bring people to Scotland and force them to work in prostitution or slave labour.
Amnesty Scotland, which is to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s equal opportunities committee today, has also raised concerns about the level of intelligence police are able to gain from victims’ groups, and the role of the UK Border Agency.
It wants a new multi-agency group to deal with victims who have been brought into the country illegally, to offer a more supportive approach than the UKBA’s focus on immigration.
Just one case has led to convictions for human trafficking in Scotland, compared to 150 in England and Wales. The Scottish Government says it is committed to tackling trafficking, and has spent £4 million on resources to combat it, but has so far rejected the need for new legislation.
In its submission to the equal opportunities committee, Amnesty wrote: “There is a real danger that the poor conviction rate could encourage the perception that trafficking offences will not be rigorously prosecuted in Scotland, and discourage victims from coming forward to seek help and redress.”
In October last year, Stephen Craig, 34, was jailed for three years and four months for arranging travel, accommodation and advertising for 14 women, while co-accused, Sarah Beukan, 22, was jailed for a year and a half for her part in his human trafficking network.
Despite them being the only convictions, police estimate 13.5 per cent of the UK’s trafficking trade is in Scotland.
Raids on brothels in 2006 and 2007/08 have identified women brought to Scotland illegally. But victims have often been fearful of giving evidence.
Shabnum Mustapha, programme director, Scotland, at Amnesty International, said: “Scotland’s police service acknowledged a lack of intelligence on human trafficking. This is partly due to a need to improve the levels of trust and cooperation between victim support services and Scotland’s law enforcement community.”
She added: “The Scottish Government should consider introducing a comprehensive Human Trafficking Bill based upon a review of all its legislation.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime which the Scottish Government is committed to tackling. We have provided the resources needed to tackle trafficking and the organised crime that lies behind it – £4m over two years.”