Criminal exploitation: practitioner guidance

Guidance to support a shared understanding of criminal exploitation to help assist with early identification of those at risk from serious organised crime. This guidance also applies to criminal exploitation which is not linked to serious organised crime.


As the Chair of Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, I warmly welcome this Practitioners’ Guidance on Criminal Exploitation. I want to thank colleagues across the Divert Strand of the SOC Taskforce involved in producing what I believe will be a key and much needed resource.

Organised crime remains a serious threat to us all and we pay for it every day, either directly as victims or indirectly by paying for the services – such as police, prosecution, the health services - that respond to it.

I want to see a Scotland where we all work together to reduce the harm caused by organised crime. Harm reduction will benefit our communities, businesses and every one of us.

This paper comes at a crucial time, when Scotland is adopting new legislative approaches to children’s care and wider justice policies, while honouring its commitment to ‘Keep the Promise’ following the independent care review.

We should all want Scotland to be leading the way when it comes to tackling criminal exploitation. To shine a bright light to ensure that criminal exploitation can no longer hide in plain sight.

This document aims to maximise Scotland’s coordinated and joined up response to all exploited individuals, making it easier for practitioners across Scotland to support children, young people and vulnerable adults who have been victims of exploitation.

Angela Constance

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs

Chair of the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce

I believe that this guidance will give professionals from across multiple agencies more comprehensive knowledge, understanding and develop that wider perspective needed about criminal exploitation.

Understanding exploitation of individuals should not merely be about recognising the characteristics of those people who are vulnerable to abuse. It also requires gaining a wider perspective of the contexts, relationships and situations in which exploitation is likely to occur.

Young people with the highest and most complex needs seem to be the most vulnerable to being involved in the criminal justice system. I know that young people involved in offending or other harmful behaviours is a symptom of other issues in their wider life, usually something which needs a whole-system approach to address. Child victims of criminal exploitation are often punished or seen as perpetrators when what they need is our care and protection.

I have seen too many times the negative impact that serious organised crime wreaks on society – families destroyed by substance abuse, parents indebted to loan sharks, housing schemes controlled by career criminals and young people’s potential crushed as they become chained to these gangs.

It means Scotland needs to be smart on crime, and smarter in tackling the causes of crime. We need to invest in programmes that stop young people becoming involved and exploited into offending behaviour while also supporting programmes that divert those other individuals already exploited by gangs and entangled in criminal networks and activities.

It is therefore essential that frontline public professionals, such as NHS staff, the police force, and school staff recognise the signs and have a shared knowledge of criminal exploitation.

I know the work of the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce will help Scotland realise a vision where all individuals are free from criminal exploitation. This guidance will take us one step further in that journey. And I hope it will spark debate and discussion while helping bring about positive working practices to offer care and support for those who are being criminally exploited and those who may be vulnerable to exploitation.

Paul Carberry Chief Executive, Action for Children

Chair of SOC Taskforce Divert Strand



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