Exploring available knowledge and evidence on prostitution in Scotland via practitioner-based interviews

Exploration of available knowledge and evidence on the scale and nature of prostitution in Scotland based on practitioner-based interviews.

3. Crime - Human Trafficking and Organised Crime


Evidence on women who have been trafficked (number and profile of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation

The research remit in relation to Trafficking was limited to an exploration of the numbers and profiles of victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation held by interviewees. Given the more limited focus, findings have been included as a separate section in the report.

The research explored the evidence held by interviewees around numbers and the profile of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is, by its nature, a hidden crime and its drivers are complex and international. Identification of victims is a complex and problematic issue. Victims of human trafficking are seen to be in the main already extremely vulnerable people, and will in many cases be concealed by physical isolation, or language or cultural barriers. In many cases, for many reasons, they are unable to make themselves known to the authorities or agencies which provide support to victims. These factors make it extremely difficult to estimate the actual number of individuals who may be victims, and to identify potential victims.

Numbers trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation

As with other aspects of the sex work market, there is a dearth of evidence around trafficking for sexual exploitation, although the gap is particularly pronounced in relation to this issue. In particular, the true scale of trafficking into Scotland for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation was widely described by interviews as unknown, given the hidden nature, and the problems around identifying victims and potential victims.

National figures are available through the National Referral Mechanism reports ( NRM). During 2015 there were 40 referrals for adult sexual exploitation from Scotland, comprising of 36 women and 4 men. Sexual exploitation is the most common ground of referral for females. The NRM does not provide a measure of the picture of human trafficking across the UK. Rather it provides figures relating to the number of potential victims that have been referred in to the NRM process. The NRM figures tended to be heavily caveated by interviewees - referral to the NRM is voluntary for adults, and interviewees described a number of reasons why someone would choose not to be referred on, including a lack of recognition that they were trafficked, and a mistrust of authorities. In addition, front line agencies were seen as lacking the necessary experience to identify victims of trafficking and refer them on. As such, NRM figures for Scotland were not seen by interviewees as representing the true picture. As one agency commented in relation to these figures '… we are seeing the tiniest tip of the market'.

Police Scotland Intelligence

More police intelligence is held on trafficking for sexual exploitation, than for other types of trafficking, due to the fact that individuals are more likely to have been observed during law enforcement activities. Across the different case study areas, the majority of police interviewed described reported incidence as low, however all were explicit in recognising a lack of reliable evidence on true scale, and the very hidden nature of human trafficking. In Edinburgh there was a sense that the number of reports was increasing, and this was due to a new campaign to increase the identification of trafficking launched in Edinburgh in October 2015.

Police Scotland commented that the more common profile that they saw was internal, or domestic trafficking.

TARA (the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance) was interviewed as part of the research. In 2004 Community Safety Glasgow established TARA, a support service for trafficking survivors, to help identify and support women who may have been trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. This includes areas such as lapdancing, and pornography as well as prostitution.

Numbers supported

TARA supplied figures for women who have agreed to and received support from the service (short and long term) when there have been concerns that they have been trafficked for CSE (either through TARAs own assessment or via an NRM first responder) - from 01.04.2011 until 24.10.2016 a total of 175 women have been supported. However, again these figures were seen as representing a very small proportion of women trafficked for sexual exploitation and in in need of support: '…I think there are possibly 10x that needing us'. It was recognised that women may not access TARA's services for a variety of reasons, including not identifying themselves as having been exploited, and the levels of physical and psychological control experienced by victims of trafficking.

Profiles and Experiences

TARA's service user records showed that women supported by the organisation came from a wide variety of countries. Nigeria was the most common country of origin. The majority of women supported were in the 20-30s age bracket.

Trafficked women were generally seen amongst interviewees to be found mainly in indoor settings, with on-street workers seen by most interviewees to be predominantly working without this element of control. Those supported by TARA were seen to be extremely vulnerable, with the added layer of complexity that the physical/psychological control issues of trafficking add. Psychological control of the women was seen to be a major issue, presenting major barriers to exiting, however the importance of opportunity was highlighted: 'it's about giving them the opportunity to get out…if the opportunity is provided to get out, they will'.

However a key difference in terms of profiles of trafficked women was reported to be around the issue of drink or drug addiction. This was seen to be rare with this group.

Pathways in depended upon the country of origin, so for example Asian women were more likely to be coerced through a family debt bond, whereas European women were often promised 'a better life'.

TARA referred to research carried out on behalf of The Equality and Human Rights Commission ( EHRC), which examined the views and experiences of victims trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation ( CSE) in Scotland. This research was part of the evidence-gathering activities to inform the EHRC's Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland. Patterns of trafficking, routes into Scotland, the levels of organisation and the nature and location of exploitation were all seen to vary according to the country of origin of the victim. The vulnerability of those who are trafficked into CSE and the impact of trafficking of victims does, however, remain constant among all women.


Links between prostitution and organised crime

At a national level there is evidence of links between prostitution and serious organised crime, and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation (National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2015). In 2009 the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency reported 19 serious organised crime groups (5% of all the crime groups known at the time) to have been involved in prostitution.

The National Human Trafficking Unit of Police Scotland have responsibility for the development of intelligence in relation to prostitution linked with Human Trafficking and Exploitation and the involvement of organised crime groups. This has led to the creation of Joint Investigation Teams with other EU states targeting crime groups in Romania, Slovakia and other areas of Europe. The structure allows the National Unit to support local police who are encountering prostitution in different areas by continuing to develop the links between separate premises being used for prostitution. In April 2016, a Romanian organised crime group was dismantled in Glasgow where they were operating brothels with victims trafficked from Romania over a period of months.

There was some divergence at a local level in the police interviewees' perception of the availability of evidence on any links with organised crime, with 2 of the areas reporting either definite or suspected links to organised crime (although the more definite links were seen to be at a national level), while for other areas no current known links were reported or intelligence gaps were identified around the area. This issue was raised with the Police Scotland Executive at a later stage of the research, who reported that they were aware of intelligence around local links with organised crime. There may be operational reasons for this, for example in situations where police have contact with people involved in prostitution through dealing with incidents that may involve antisocial behaviour, and they may not always be immediately aware of the links to organised crime.


Email: Justice Analytical Services

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