Human trafficking in Scotland: What you need to know

Written by Annie Forget

For most people, human trafficking is something only read about in the news or seen in a documentary. But sadly, thousands of women, men, and children around the world have experienced it firsthand—including here in Scotland.

What is human trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime that involves selling or trading human beings for the purposes of exploitation. Victims of trafficking are often forced to work without salary and live in horrible conditions.

“Human trafficking is one of the most serious and barbaric crimes, profiting from human misery.

Neil Wain International Programme Director, Hope for Justice

Human trafficking in Scotland

In Scotland, the number of human trafficking victims has grown quite worryingly over the last five years. In 2013, there were 99 potential victims of trafficking recovered in Scotland. In 2016 that number rose to 150. In 2017, that number rose by 42% to 213. And in 2018, 228 referrals of potential trafficking victims were sent to Police Scotland. Estimates of the actual number of trafficked victims in Scotland are much higher.

At Amma, we frequently support pregnant woman who have escaped trafficking situations—and whose pregnancies are often the result of the exploitation they have faced. These women are typically referred to Amma by the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA), an organisation funded by that Scottish Government that supports female survivors of trafficking across Scotland.

We spoke with Carolann Nesbitt, TARA’s Service Manager, to find out more about TARA and the vital service they provide.

Q: Can you explain what TARA does and who you help?

A: TARA provides support to women, over 18 years, where there are concerns they are trafficked or exploited. We are a 24/7 response service.

The support we provide includes:

  • Acting as a First Responder for the National Referral Mechanism

  • Short-term crisis accommodations

  • Short-term financial assistance

  • Risk and needs assessment

  • Referral for early legal advice

  • Referral for psychological assessment and treatment if required

  • Healthcare and support to report to Police Scotland or to continue to cooperate with Police investigations

This support is person-centred, trauma informed and takes a three-staged model approach. Our role primarily focusses on stages one and two: creating safety followed by a period of stabilisation. Although our office is based in Glasgow, we provide a service to women throughout Scotland.

Q: Do you also offer services to community groups or organisations who may work with women who have been trafficked?

A: Yes, TARA provides training and information to other organisations and community groups when capacity allows. We have a duty worker available during office hours to provide information and advice.

Q: Who can refer potential survivors of sex trafficking to TARA? Does it have to be a frontline professional? And what does the referral process entail?

A: We receive referrals from frontline professionals and community groups. Potential survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation can self-refer to our service. Referrals can be made by telephone 0141 276 7724 or by email

The referral process involves initial consultation followed by assessment of risk and needs. Women are provided with information about our service and the supports available. TARA operates a trauma-informed service informed by a recovery-based support plan for a period of 12-18 months, depending on identified needs. We also offer a signposting service to women not eligible for our support.

Q: Are there any other organisations that offer similar services in the UK?

A: Migrant Help provides support to male victims of trafficking and women trafficked for purposes other than sexual exploitation in Scotland. The Salvation Army is contracted by the UK government to provide a similar service in England and Northern Ireland. They also subcontract services to a range of support providers. Social Work services and the Scottish Guardianship Project provides support to children under 18 years.

Q: From TARA’s point of view, what has been the impact of TARA working together with Amma to support women who have been trafficked?

A: The impact of TARA and Amma’s alliance has been extremely positive. Our staff and service users have found the service provided by Amma to be invaluable for our clients as it greatly improves their resilience and personally supports them during such a difficult and isolating time.

Having a birth companion has given service users the confidence to plan their birth with the knowledge that a professional friend is on hand to support them through the process. The alliance has also helped develop skills within our team who are now better equipped with knowledge about childbirth support available through Amma.

Q: In your opinion, what is still missing in Scotland and/or the UK, to further help and support survivors of trafficking and exploitation?

A: Identification and detection of victims of trafficking remains a complicated issue and although awareness of trafficking is improving there is always the need for vigilance. If there remains a demand for prostituted women unfortunately (mostly) women will be trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation to meet this demand.

Wider structural changes are required to assist women out of poverty and the circumstances that make them vulnerable to exploitation.

Language barriers remain a major issue with a lack of English classes available for the volume requiring this support. As does the limitations placed on women who have care of children.

All of this would help the recovery of the women we support.

Find out more

Types of exploitation

There are many forms of exploitation and the traffickers’ victims can be women, children, or men. It does not matter if consent was given or not. In all cases, the exploitation is either for the trafficker’s financial profit or for personal benefit.

  • Sexual: Includes commercial sexual exploitation, where the victim is forced to work as a prostitute, in pornography, as a stripper, or as a lap dancer.

  • Domestic servitude: Includes housework, childcare, and cooking.

  • Criminal: Shoplifting, fraud (identity theft), cannabis cultivation, shoplifting, petty crime.

  • Labour: Working either in factories, as a care worker, in the agricultural field, the hospitality industry, etc.

  • Organ removal: Organs are stolen from trafficked victims to be sold on the black market for profit.

Signs of human trafficking and exploitation

You don't have to be qualified to recognise the signs of human trafficking. Simply keep your eyes and ears open and pay attention to any of the following warning signs:

  • Physical appearance: The person Looks unkept, malnourished, anxious, agitated or appears withdrawn and neglected. Shows signs of physical (untreated injuries) or psychological abuse.

  • Avoid eye contact: They don’t know who to trust, so they fear making eye contact or speaking to strangers. They are told law enforcement will deport them, and that physical retaliation against them or their family members (here or abroad) will be the consequence for asking for help.

  • Restricted freedom of movement: The person has little opportunity to walk around freely. You’re unlikely to see them going to shops alone, for example.

  • Unhabitual relationships: These are relationships that look out of the ordinary, like a teenager with an older adult who appear to be in a relationship.

  • Poor or overcrowded living conditions: You might notice many people going in and out of a small flat in the building where you live. Based on their daily routine, you suspect they may even live and work at the same address.

  • Unusual travel arrangements: Children are being dropped off or picked up at unusual times and places, in private cars or taxis.

  • Unusual travel times: Women, men, or children are collected extremely early from home and dropped off late at night, and daily.

What to do if you suspect trafficking

If you would like to refer a potential victim of human trafficking and/or exploitation, support, and assistance to potential and confirmed adult victims of trafficking is provided through:

  • TARA: Provides support to women age 18 and older and trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Call 0141 276 7724 (24/7).

  • Migrant Help: Provides support to all adult victims. Call 0141 884 7900 (daytime) or 0141 212 8553 (out of hours).

Or you can also contact: