Human trafficking rise leads to calls for tougher laws

The Scottish Government is planning a crackdown on human trafficking. Picture: PA
The Scottish Government is planning a crackdown on human trafficking. Picture: PA
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TOUGHER laws punishing human traffickers with longer sentences are being planned by the Scottish Government.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said he wants to send out the message that “Scotland is closed for business” for modern day slavery.

Just two traffickers have been convicted in Scotland, despite 93 potential victims being flagged up in 2011 alone. Many are made to work in farms, restaurants or illegal cannabis factories, while others are raped and forced into prostitution.

The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (Tara), in Glasgow, worked with 47 women in 2011-12, and a further 34 since April who have been brought to Scotland as sex slaves.

Bronagh Andrew, assistant operations manager at Tara, said: “The vast majority of women believe they are coming to the UK for a better life and to improve their English.

“It’s similar to our young people going on a gap year.

“It’s not until they are in the UK that they see the reality of what’s happening.

“Their documents are removed and they are forced to watch pornographic films, to teach them how to behave with clients.

“They are photographed in pornographic poses, to advertise them, but also for blackmail.

“The trafficker would say, ‘Look, you’ve even got a smile on your face, no-one will believe what’s happening to you’.

“They are told they owe £50,000, which they have to pay or there will be consequences for their families back home.”

The traffickers also prey on the women’s beliefs.

“Some go through ritual oaths where they swear not to tell anyone what’s happening to them,” Ms Andrew said.

“Some women are raped in order to exert control. Many women have been held and raped for a number of years.

“They are fearful of the community finding out, and fearful of not being believed.”

Tara helps women aged 18 or over. Over the years, most of the victims it has seen have been African, particularly Nigerian, Thai, or from eastern Europe.

However, in recent months it has seen a rise in women from western and central Europe.

Across Scotland as a whole, there were 95 referrals of possible trafficking victims in 2010, and 39 in 2009.

UK figures are also showing an increase. There were 946 victims last year, including 712 adults and 234 children, compared with 710 in 2010, with 524 adults and 186 minors.

The Scottish Government plans to include the new statutory aggravation in its next criminal justice bill. The plans follow a summit at which the Scottish Government also promised to improve training for frontline professionals, provide better care and support for child and adult victims, and ensure more accurate data is collected in future on the number of people trafficked.

After it becomes law, someone charged with rape or assault could be charged with crimes aggravated by human trafficking, which could lead to a stiffer punishment.

David Harvie, of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said: “What it enables us to do is lead evidence about the motivation behind other types of criminality, giving the person sentencing the proper nature of the offending. One would hope, given the sinister nature of this modern day slavery, the courts would consider that should have a significant impact on their sentence.”

Mr MacAskill added: “We want to send out the message that Scotland is closed for business to traffickers.

“We will do everything in our power to crack down on those who exploit people for forced labour, sex or domestic servitude. Making trafficking easier to prosecute will give our law enforcement agencies a powerful new tool in their armoury.”

As well as sex slaves, police are concerned about people forced to work in cannabis factories.

Young Chinese and Vietnamese men, in particular, are trafficked to Scotland and kept prisoner in houses and flats, which are gutted and kept at a high temperature to grow cannabis.

Steve House, chief constable of Scotland, said: “If officers find a small offence, such as extracting electricity, bypassing electricity meters, that’s an easy offence to detect and proceed on.”


MARISCA, 18, from Poland, came to the attention of social workers after being referred to them as a vulnerable pregnant woman.

The referral had been made by a local GP who became concerned after discovering that, despite being seven months pregnant, it was the first time she had been seen by a medical professional.

She was also referred to a special needs in pregnancy team who had concerns regarding her distress around the pregnancy, mental health, and her suspicions of social work services.

There were several signs that she had been trafficked.

She had no proof of identification and a man, who accompanied her to the meeting, was reluctant for her to be seen alone.

They also noticed she appeared frightened and very concerned about a possible sexually-transmitted infection.

The social worker passed the case on to Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (Tara) for advice, and in the discussions which followed Marisca opened up about her ordeal.

She had been recruited in Poland to travel to Scotland for agricultural work. Only women were recruited.

Once in Glasgow she was given fraudulent paperwork to open a bank account, but was arrested by the police.

The traffickers had said she would go to prison if she told police what had happened to her, so she kept quiet.

Later, the traffickers forced her into prostitution. Marisca was expected to have unprotected sex and, as a result, fell pregnant.

Her concerns about her sexual health were a direct result of the unprotected sex she had been forced to have.

One of her regular clients offered to help her escape and allowed her to stay with him.

As he lived close to the brothel, he would not allow her to leave the house unless she was with him. He expected sex and referred to her as his girlfriend even though she was adamant that she was not.

She was frightened of him as he often shouted at her and called her names, such as “whore” and “slut”.

Working alongside the social worker and Strathclyde Police, Tara was able to identify safe accommodation for Marisca.

It also provided her with a small living allowance, helped her to report regularly to Strathclyde Police, and gave her access to specialist psychological support.

Tara, along with other agencies, continues to work on her behalf.

The organisation has also helped develop a long-term plan to try to help her recover from her experiences.

• Marisca’s story is made up of real life experiences of women helped by Tara.