Human Trafficking: In Scotland
Although slavery was abolished centuries ago the problem persists. Indeed, there are currently more slaves in the world today then there were at the peak of the lamentable trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Human trafficking is, essentially, the exploitation of vulnerability. Victims are often targeted for their vulnerability. They might be marginalised from society, suffer from poverty, or simply have limited employment opportunities. Such people are acquired by traffickers, often through deception – the offer of a good job, promises of love, and a fresh start – only for the victim to be exploited when they arrive in the town, city or country they have been taken to. There is often a perception that trafficking is an immigration problem. However, a substantial number of the victims identified in Scotland and across the UK are British nationals.
In order to ensure that victims do not escape they are controlled by their captors. This may take the form of physical and sexual violence and threats. Traffickers have also been known to induce drug or alcohol addiction within their victims. However, it is believed that traffickers, in an attempt to avoid drawing attention to themselves or their victims, have adopted more subtle, psychological techniques to ensure their victims do as they are told.
This exploitation itself may take any number of forms. Adults and children – from both the UK and abroad – suffer exploitation in the sex industry, through forced labour, domestic servitude, and forced criminal activity. There have even been cases of trafficking for the removal of organs. The problem is, therefore, far from being limited to the commercial sex industry. Whilst there are links between these two issues, there is a growing realisation of the prevalence of forced labour throughout the country.
The Problem in Scotland
Human trafficking exists around us in ways and places which we would not imagine but which are often closely intertwined with how we live our lives. In February 2014, a 14 year old Latvian girl was rescued having been trafficked into Scotland to deliver charity collection packages. There is perhaps a perception that this problem is limited to the big cities in Scotland, but in fact it is present in rural areas too. For example, in Argyll and Skye there have been reports of human trafficking for forced labour. We will only begin to address the problem when we begin to appreciate the scale and complexity of trafficking in Scotland.
It is not known how many victims of trafficking there are in Scotland. In 2013, 99 people were referred to the national authorities as potential victims. However, this is believed to be only the tip of the iceberg as many victims remain unidentified or are not referred for State support. Only 5 people have ever been convicted of human trafficking offences in Scotland. Those 5 convictions came from 2 cases. The first case involved a couple who moved 14 men and women across various addresses in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and Newcastle for prostitution. The second case involved Slovakian victims being trafficked into Dundee to be sold into a sham marriage.
Money is a key reason why this abuse continues. Human trafficking is an extremely lucrative business. One criminal group in Scotland, running 10 brothels, earned between £1.5 and 2.6 million per annum. This reflects the fact that globally human trafficking is the second largest source of illegal income. Drug dealers are changing their ways as they realise that trading in human flesh is far more lucrative. Unlike a kilo of cocaine, a human body can be sold over and over again.