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Strategy to focus on breaking up trafficking groups and supporting victims.
There will be no place to hide in Scotland for human traffickers the Justice Secretary pledged today.
The message came at the launch of the Scottish Government's Human Trafficking Strategy, which will aim to disrupt perpetrators and improve support for traumatised victims.
The strategy, out for consultation from today, involves joint working with Police Scotland, the third sector and partners across the UK. It covers three key themes:
- Actions to raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation, such as helping the wider public recognise the signs of trafficking and know what action to take
- Improving arrangements to facilitate detection and prevention, including robust cross-border action by police and courts
- Support and assistance for victims, including a clear process to assist their rehabilitation.
Mr Matheson said:
"Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime, causing lasting physical and psychological damage, yet such exploitation is happening in Scotland today. The number of trafficking victims identified and rescued in Scotland rose by 46% in the two years up to 2015.
"The new Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act has already created a new offence of trafficking with a possible maximum life sentence. Today's draft strategy sets out the approach to address trafficking and exploitation, aimed at exposing and eradicating these crimes.
"We want to support victims to safety and recovery, identify and disrupt perpetrators, and address the conditions, local and global, that foster trafficking and exploitation. In order to do that, cross-border working, including continued support from Europol is absolutely vital.
"I encourage anyone who has encountered such crimes – as a victim or witness or any other interested party – to have their say and help shape our action against these vile criminals. There must be no place to hide for them in Scotland."
John Merralls, UK Operations Manager and Deputy Head at Migrant Help UK, also said:
"Migrant Help UK welcomes publication of the Scottish Government Strategy on combatting human trafficking in Scotland. The charity, which was a partner in developing this strategy, shares the government's desire to eliminate human trafficking and help all victims of this abominable crime.
"We support the government's inclusiveness, openness and determination in tackling such a major human rights issue. The strategy establishes a clear blueprint for the future and represents a commitment to working in partnership with all relevant agencies and providers across national and international borders to achieving its aims.
"We will continue our close working relationship with the government in realising the strategy to the benefit of Scotland and all trafficking victims who we support and advise."
Deputy Chief Constable Johnny Gwynne said: "Human Trafficking is a sickening trade in vulnerable people. Police Scotland is committed to targeting those who seek to profit from exploiting others. We support all efforts to keep people safe from this type of criminal activity.
"Trafficking is a challenging and complex issue to investigate, with most cases being protracted and involving law enforcement in more than one country, both in the UK, Europe and internationally. Trafficking is often a hidden crime and its victims frequently don't see themselves as such, therefore we proactively look for victims. Police Scotland has a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit which brings a high level of expertise and robust investigative techniques to identifying both victims and perpetrators.
"Police Scotland encourages reporting and would ask the public and businesses to be socially and ethically aware - if you suspect someone is being exploited and may have been trafficked, please contact us on 101."
A spokesperson for Community Safety Glasgow, which delivers the TARA (Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance) service, said: "This is the first time Scotland has ever set out a strategy to tackle human trafficking and we look forward to continuing to make a detailed contribution to the crucial, national dialogue.
"Human trafficking is a fundamental breach of human rights and has a disproportionate impact on women and children. There is already a national commitment to end violence against women and girls and the new trafficking strategy will help to target the demand that leads to women being exploited.
"It is vitally important that survivors of human trafficking are also able to share their experiences as part of the development of the new strategy. Community Safety Glasgow, in partnership with the Scottish Government, are undertaking an event with current service users to ensure their personal insight will help us develop our thinking around prevention and ultimately bring all perpetrators to justice."
The strategy can be found here.