Human trafficking research: summary of findings

The results of an independent survey of public awareness of human trafficking.

Background and methodology

The Scottish Government has developed a strategy to tackle human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland, and in 2017 ran marketing activity to increase awareness of human trafficking in Scotland. To inform this strategy and monitor its impact, Kantar TNS was commissioned to conduct research among the Scottish population.

The research was conducted using a face-to-face, in-home, CAPI Omnibus survey - the Scottish Opinion Survey (SOS) - as the method for data collection. Two waves of research have now been conducted:

  • Wave 1 (2017): a sample of 1,025 adults aged 16+ was interviewed across Scotland between 1 and 26 March 2017
  • Wave 2 (2018): a sample of 1,008 adults aged 16+ was interviewed across Scotland between 28 February and 2 April 2018
  • Wave 3 (2019): a sample of 1,082 adults aged 16+ was interviewed across Scotland between 20 February and 20 March 2019

At each wave the data was weighted to match population profiles to ensure it was both demographically and geographically representative of the adult population of Scotland.

Main findings

When asked spontaneously what they understand by the term "human trafficking", in 2018 respondents were most likely to say '(modern) slavery' (37%), which was mentioned by the same proportion in 2017. The previous top mention - 'transporting/recruiting people for purposes of prostitution / sexual exploitation' – which was mentioned by 40% in 2017 - fell significantly to 32%, though it remains the second most common mention. The third and fourth most common mentions were the same as 2017 - 'transporting/recruiting for other improper purposes' (30% vs. 29% in 2017) and 'transporting/recruiting for purposes of forced labour' (28% vs. 27% in 2017). The only other significant change was a decline in mentions of 'forced marriage' from 12% to 7%.

As in 2017, one in ten were unable to say what human trafficking is (9% in 2018 vs. 10% in 2017). Where there was previously a significant difference by gender, this was not evident in 2018 (9% males vs. 10% females). However, other groups previously highlighted as being less aware continue to be so – 12% of 16-34s, 18% of those in the DE social grades and 20% among those in ethnic minority groups (vs. 9% among white respondents).

Respondents were then asked the extent to which they believe human trafficking is an issue in a number of places. The results in 2018 continue to indicate that it is seen as less of an issue closer to home. However, the significant increases in the proportion who state that human trafficking is an issue to 'a great extent' in Europe and the Rest of the world show that people believe it is becoming more prevalent, albeit at a distance. The proportion stating that human trafficking is an issue to 'a great extent' in each of the areas is shown in the table below:

Table 1: % stating that Human Trafficking is a problem 'to a great extent' in each area

  2017 % 2018 %
Europe 53 59
Rest of the world (not including Europe) 63 69
The UK 30 34
Scotland 14 16
Your local area of Scotland 5 4

As in 2017, those in the 'West' of Scotland are significantly more likely to think that human trafficking is an issue 'to a great extent' in Scotland (20% vs. 13% in East/South and 12% in North).

Respondents were asked a series of questions to understand which industries and activities in Scotland they thought might involve human trafficking. Firstly, when asked to consider which industries and activities might involve adults who are victims of trafficking, the top three activities mentioned spontaneously in 2018 were:

  • sex industry / prostitution (61%, down significantly from 70% in 2017)
  • manual labour (which was previously third, at 30%, down from 33% previously)
  • drugs (which was previously second, at 27%, down significantly from 40%)

Respondents were then prompted with a list of possible industries and asked which they thought applied to adults who are victims of trafficking. Taking both spontaneous and prompted responses into account, the top six activities mentioned in 2018 were the same as in 2017, and mentioned at essentially the same levels:

  • sex industry / prostitution (86% vs. 84% in 2017)
  • drugs (69% in both years)
  • manual labour (57% in both years)
  • begging (56% vs. 54% in 2017)
  • benefit fraud (44% vs. 47% in 2017)
  • working in private houses (45% vs. 47% in 2017)

However, there were significant increases in awareness of trafficked adults being involved in other areas, including:

  • farming (up from 31% to 39%)
  • beauty industry (up from 31% to 37%)
  • tourism (up from 15% to 19%)
  • catering and hospitality (up from 3% to 7%)

The same questions were asked about children who are victims of trafficking, and the top three spontaneous answers respondents gave were:

  • child sexual exploitation/sex industry (51%, down significantly from 59%)
  • drugs (19%, down significantly from 24%)
  • begging (15%, down significantly from 22%) / Manual labour (15%, down significantly from 22%)

After being prompted with the same list, taking both spontaneous and prompted responses into account, the top five activities mentioned in relation to children were as follows. Again, these show little change from 2017:

  • child sexual exploitation/sex industry (78% vs. 76% previously)
  • begging (51% vs. 53%)
  • drugs (47% in both years)
  • manual labour (38% vs. 39%)
  • benefit fraud (35% vs. 37%)

The only significant change recorded in relation to trafficked children was a significant decline in mentions of 'Working in private houses' (31%, down from 37% in 2017).

As in 2017, the pattern of responses to awareness of activities and industries involved in human trafficking was similar across demographic groups. It continues to be the case, however, that those in the AB social grades tended to be significantly more likely than those in the lower social grades to cite a number of industries where adults can be victims of trafficking. In addition, women tended to be more aware than men, and younger age groups least likely to be aware. In relation to children there were fewer significant sub-group differences, though those aged 65+ were often significantly less likely to be aware of where children might be involved.

When asked what they would do if they suspected someone had been trafficked / exploited, 87% of respondents said they would report it to the Police, up significantly from 80% in 2017, and increasing to over eight in ten across all genders, ages and social grades. 12% said they would tell friends/family (down significantly from 16%), 14% would find out more information (vs. 15% previously) and 12% would stop using/visiting the service where the exploitation is taking place (14% previously). As in 2017, 1% said they would do nothing.

Two new questions were added to the survey in 2018 to better understand the visibility of the Scottish Government's marketing activity on the topic, which ran in September 2017. Firstly, respondents were asked if they had seen or heard any advertising or media coverage recently on the topic of human trafficking. This question was included to obtain a baseline measure for awareness of activity when the campaign has not been on recently. Should the activity be run again, then this question can be repeated afterwards to assess the extent to which the campaign is being noticed. It should be noted that this was a deliberately broad question to capture awareness of any activity, not just that commissioned by Scottish Government.

Overall, two-fifths (40%) of adults in Scotland claimed to have seen or heard activity on the topic recently, with the most common sources being TV programmes / news (23%), TV advertising (9%) and newspaper coverage / articles (8%). When grouping together mentions of channels used by Scottish Government – i.e. TV advertising, adverts on websites and social media mentions – 14% claimed to have seen activity on any of these sources. Awareness was broadly similar by gender and social grade, with 16-24s and 65+ least aware (33%) compared to 51% of 45-64s.

Respondents were also shown examples of the Scottish Government advertising used in September 2017 and asked whether they recalled seeing the ads, either on TV or online / on social media (these are shown in Figure 1 below). Though this question could not be used to accurately measure campaign recognition on this occasion (given the time that has elapsed since it was live), it was included to allow us to identify people who think they had seen the campaign and analyse other measures among those who had seen the campaign and those who had not to see whether other measures are better among those who have.

Overall, one quarter (25%) of adults in Scotland claimed to have seen any of the advertising. 15% claimed to have seen the TV advertising, 10% the online / social media adverts and 4% claimed they had seen the ads but were unsure where. Females were significantly more likely to have seen the activity (27% vs. 22% of males), and awareness was broadly similar by social grade and by age with the exception of significantly lower levels among 65+ (14%). Though not statistically significantly, ethnic minority respondents were less likely to recall the ads (18% vs. 25% of white respondents).

For examples of advertising shown to measure prompted recognition, please see the attached PDF.

Human trafficking research: summary of findings - April 2019


Human Trafficking Team
St Andrews House

0131 244 2693


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