The first ever campaign targeting the perpetrators of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland has been launched by police.
Officers said traffickers are making potentially millions of pounds from sexually exploiting victims who are left “highly traumatised” by the experience.
The £25,000 campaign aims to raise public awareness of what may be going on “in plain sight” in their communities.
Since January 1 this year 44 women and two men have identified themselves as victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and came forward to seek support.
Of those, seven were girls under the age of 18.
Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, crime and protection lead for Police Scotland, said: “Sexual exploitation, or prostitution, is highly lucrative for criminal gangs who exploit people and place them at risk of significant harm.
“People may reply to an advertisement offering work in Scotland and find themselves forced into prostitution for the financial gain of criminals.”
She added: “Sexual exploitation takes place behind closed doors.
“Premises may be rented out short term from landlords or agencies who have no idea that their properties are being used for this purpose.
“Equally, there are landlords who may own numerous properties and who know exactly what is happening in those premises.
“People are being trafficked into and around Scotland and it is unacceptable that people are being bought and sold, exploited and abused in this way.
“We are asking people to be aware and to report if they believe someone is being trafficked or exploited.
“We will target those who control, abuse and exploit others by working collaboratively with partners to ensure that Scotland is and remains a hostile environment to this trade.”
One woman, trafficked to Scotland and rescued during a police operation in Glasgow, was forced into prostitution seven days a week, at least eight hours a day and her exploiters were charging £120 per hour.
She had been in Scotland for three months.
In recent operations across Scotland, 12 potential victims of trafficking were identified.
One operation involved Police Scotland working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Romanian police.
It resulted in seven people from an eastern European crime gang being arrested in Romania while a number of potential victims were rescued from sexual exploitation in Glasgow.
The campaign urges people to look out for signs of potential trafficking and sexual exploitation such as multiple female foreign nationals living at the same address, occupants rarely being seen outside and occupants changing regularly.
Other signs may include male callers day and night staying for only a short time and details of sexual activity such as cards and advertisements.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Human trafficking and exploitation are appalling abuses of human rights, leaving victims highly traumatised and living in fear.
“It is completely unacceptable these crimes are taking place in modern Scotland and we are determined to do all we can to support victims and target perpetrators.
“Police Scotland’s tough and targeted approach to tracking down the criminals profiting from this abuse is reaping results and I am pleased to support their latest campaign focusing on human trafficking and sexual exploitation.”
The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (Tara) run by Community Safety Glasgow, is supporting the campaign.
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