Police have warned they expect to see a rise in human trafficking cases as a result of laws that put an onus on public bodies to raise concerns.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act requires those working in the public sector to notify Police Scotland of anyone thought to be a victim.
Recent figures from the National Crime Agency (NCA) show both adults and children are being brought to Scotland from as far afield as Africa and south-east Asia for the purposes of labour exploitation and prostitution.
Police said recent cases have included domestic servitude, where a trafficked person has ended up working as a servant, or victims being trafficked to work in brothels.
Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Houston, of Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit, said: “The fact that sexual exploitation is often hidden, and people may not recognise labour exploitation, means we can’t know how many individuals have been trafficked.
“We need to build on the intelligence picture to try and gauge that the best we can. Recent increases show that first responders are recognising the signs – we should be positive about the fact we are rescuing people.”
He said more cases were likely to be reported as public awareness grows and the legislation, introduced in late 2015, begins to take effect.
He said: “There’s an analogy with the recent rise in the reporting of sexual crime. The rise in people reporting non-recent sexual crime shows there’s a trust and a confidence that allows people to come forward.
“The majority of what we see in Scotland in terms of human trafficking is labour exploitation, whether that’s in industries like fishing and farming or in cash businesses such as nail bars and car washes.
“The new legislation will bring increased public knowledge. The duty to notify will bring an increase in the numbers, but I take that as a positive. That’s an increase in the number of people coming forward and allows us to build a picture of who’s exploiting them, why and how we can stop it.”
The most recent figures from the NCA show children from as far away as Nigeria and Somalia have been trafficked to Scotland. Victims from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe were among those identified by authorities and reported using the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
Under the 2015 legislation, anyone found to be involved in human trafficking could face a life sentence.