Review conclusions and next steps
The review sought to answer three key questions:
- To what extent has the Strategy been implemented and complied with?
- Should a new Strategy be published?
- If so, what changes are needed in a new Strategy?
The main conclusions of the review are set out here for each of these questions. However, behind these high level conclusions there is a wealth of inputs and suggestions which each Action Area and the Child Trafficking Strategy Group is using to reform and improve their approach and activities.
To what extent has the Strategy been implemented and complied with?
As set out in the section of this report "Delivering the Strategy", and in each of the three annual progress reports, there has been a huge amount of work in Scotland since the publication of the Strategy to improve support for victims, tackle perpetrators and address the causes of trafficking.
Meaningful progress has been made towards each of the key outcomes in the Strategy, and the specific short, medium and longer term actions have generally been either completed or moved forward. Where this has not been possible, plans have been put in place to make progress in the next phase of Strategy implementation.
Some of the work has been done by the Scottish Government directly, some has been done by partners on their own initiative, and some has been the result of collaborative working. A key learning point from the review is that each of the three Action Area groups, and the Child Trafficking Strategy Group, could improve joint working to drive forward cross-cutting projects.
It is clear that partners and stakeholders are committed to tackling human trafficking, and to using the Strategy as a framework for this. Section 37 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 allows Ministers, by regulations, to specify which Scottish public authorities should be subject to a duty to cooperate on the Strategy. Regulations will be developed in due course, but the lack of a statutory duty has clearly been no barrier to bodies engaging with and helping to deliver the Strategy.
There is clearly more work to be done, and there are areas where progress has been slower than had been hoped. The duty to notify has proved more complex to implement meaningfully than expected, but is now in a position to move forward following public consultation; targeted measures for those at risk of trafficking could be more strategic and joined-up; and while numbers of referrals have increased dramatically, there can be no doubt that we are still some way from identifying and addressing all the trafficking and exploitation taking place in Scotland.
However, the vision of the Strategy – to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation – was never a three-year goal. It is clear that the Strategy has been largely complied with, both by the Scottish Government and its partners. The review process has been valuable in identifying where further work is most needed, and how the collective approach can be improved.
Should a new Strategy be published?
A clear consensus emerged from all forms of engagement that the Strategy in its current form provides a broadly effective framework for delivering and coordinating action on trafficking in Scotland, and that fundamentally redesigning it would be unhelpful at this stage.
However, there were a number of areas where improvements could be made, which are set out below.
This review concludes that while the Strategy is fit for purpose in the short term, a revised Strategy should be developed and published when possible.
What changes are needed in a new Strategy?
One key theme that emerged from the review is the need to consider gendered aspects of human trafficking and exploitation. While the majority of NRM referrals from Scotland are for suspected labour exploitation of men and boys, the vast majority of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are women and girls, and the impact on them can be particularly devastating. Several respondents during the review emphasised the need for the Strategy to do more to reflect this. However, others raised concerns about taking a strictly typological approach, given that many victims suffer multiple forms of exploitation. This warrants further consideration.
The chapter on child trafficking in the Strategy makes clear that this is a key priority for joint work. Some have argued that this would be more effective if child trafficking were made into a fourth Action Area with equal status to the other three. In practice, the implementation approach for child trafficking has been very similar to the three Action Areas, except that instead of working towards delivering three key outcomes, this has been structured around the three Action Areas themselves (supporting victims, tackling perpetrators, and addressing the causes). The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the Child Trafficking Strategy Group and will consider this as part of that work.
One specific aspect of child trafficking that emerged consistently during the review was child criminal exploitation, including the practice sometimes known as County Lines. This is related to the wider issue of low numbers of UK victims being referred to the NRM from Scotland, compared with England and Wales. The Child Trafficking Strategy Group will work with Police Scotland and Action Area Two to see how this can be addressed.
The work to support victims has up until now been primarily focused on meeting their immediate needs, in line with statutory requirements. More work is now needed to consider longer term outcomes for survivors of trafficking and exploitation, and the Strategy should set out goals in this area.
The COVID-19 pandemic and anticipated economic impact will have a major impact on human trafficking and exploitation work in Scotland. The revised strategy will be informed by emerging evidence and will respond to any specific needs identified.
While the current annual reporting cycle remains appropriate, the specific measures set out in the Strategy are not always meaningful or representative of the progress that has been made, and could be reconsidered.
More work could be undertaken in schools and universities to build awareness and understanding, and links to related policy areas including Serious Organised Crime, prostitution, child sexual and criminal exploitation, and homelessness could be strengthened.
These are the main areas that will be considered in developing an updated Strategy; however a much wider range of subjects have been raised during the course of the review, and will be considered in detail by the three Action Area groups and the Child Trafficking Strategy Group, to improve joint working to tackle trafficking and exploitation in Scotland.