Uncovering human trafficking

Increase in reports of trafficking follows Scottish Government strategy

The number of potential human trafficking victims identified and given help in Scotland has risen over the last year.

There were 213 referrals to Police Scotland in 2017, a 42% increase from 2016. The greatest increase was in labour exploitation referrals, and over half of reports referred to a male victim, a rise of 64% from the previous year.

The rise indicates greater awareness of the issue of human trafficking, after the Scottish Government launched the country’s first national strategy in 2017 to deal with perpetrators and improve support for victims, leading to a public awareness campaign.

Successful prosecutions against human traffickers include two men recently found guilty of servitude offences for holding men against their will and forcing them to work for little and no money. Two others were convicted for assault on the same victims.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who launched the strategy in May last year, said:

“During development of our national strategy and since its publication last spring, human trafficking and exploitation has rarely been far from the news agenda. That, together with the public information campaign, has helped ensure greater public awareness of the issue and the harm it causes.

“Trafficking and exploitation can take place in any community and does not only affect people from overseas. It is essential that if we see or suspect something then we contact the appropriate authorities.

“An increase in the number of trafficking referrals in Scotland suggests that we are getting better at identifying and reporting victims of trafficking. The Scottish Government has also led the way in improving support for victims of trafficking in the UK, including doubling the amount of time that they are eligible for this support, from April this year.”

Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said:

“People are trafficked for a variety of purposes, including commercial sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forced criminality and domestic servitude, and all for the profit or personal gain of the traffickers.

“They are often trafficked across international borders but also within Scotland. It is alarming that of the 213 referrals to Police Scotland last year, 61 of those involved children.

“Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit leads, co-ordinates and supports our response to investigating all forms of trafficking. Working with partners, we will assess the threat and develop intelligence to safeguard those at risk of, and vulnerable to, human trafficking while identifying those committing, facilitating and profiting from exploitation.

“The signs of person being exploited can be seen within our communities and by raising public awareness of the signs, it is crucial that all suspicions of such activity are provided to the police.”


More than half (58%) of human trafficking reports from 2017 involved a male victim (totalling 123 male victims, both adults and children) – 85% of which were victims of labour exploitation. Compared to the previous year this marks a 64% increase in the number of males referred to the National Referral Mechanism.

The National Referral Mechanism is the UK-wide system that identifies whether an individual is subjected to human trafficking. You can view the 2017 statistics on the National Crime Agency website.

Ending human trafficking is a key priority for Scotland’s justice agencies and was discussed at the most recent meeting of the country’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce last month, co-chaired by the Justice Secretary and the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

Policies to tackle human trafficking in Scotland.

Read more about work to tackle serious organised crime in Scotland. View the Scottish Government human trafficking campaign on You Tube.


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