The first campaign targeting the perpetrators of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland has been launched by police – who revealed 46 victims have come forward this year alone.
Officers said traffickers are making potentially millions of pounds from sexually exploiting victims who are left “highly traumatised” by the experience.
The £25,000 campaign aims to raise public awareness of what may be going on “in plain sight” in their communities.
Since 1 January this year, 44 women and two men have identified themselves as victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and came forward to seek support. Of those, seven were girls under the age of 18.
Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, crime and protection lead for Police Scotland, said: “Sexual exploitation, or prostitution, is highly lucrative for criminal gangs who exploit people and place them at risk of significant harm.
“People may reply to an advertisement offering work in Scotland and find themselves forced into prostitution for the financial gain of criminals.”
She added: “Sexual exploitation takes place behind closed doors. Premises may be rented out short term from landlords or agencies who have no idea that their properties are being used for this purpose.
“Equally, there are landlords who may own numerous properties and who know exactly what is happening in those premises.
“We are asking people to be aware and to report if they believe someone is being trafficked or exploited.”
One woman who was trafficked to Scotland and rescued during a police operation in Glasgow was forced into prostitution seven days a week, with her exploiters charging £120 per hour. She had been in Scotland for three months.
In recent operations across Scotland, 12 potential victims of trafficking were identified.
One operation involved Police Scotland working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Romanian police. It resulted in seven people from an eastern European crime gang being arrested in Romania, while a number of potential victims were rescued in Glasgow.
The campaign urges people to look out for signs of potential trafficking and sexual exploitation, such as multiple female foreign nationals living at the same address, occupants rarely being seen outside and male callers arriving at any time of day and night and staying in the property for only a short time.