Investigation into human trafficking in Scotland
By Reevel Alderson
BBC Scotland's Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
An inquiry is to begin to discover how many victims of human trafficking there are in Scotland.
The investigation, launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland (EHRC) will be chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
It will look at the sex trade and also report on whether the Scottish government is meeting its international obligations to protect victims.
But police have found hard facts about trafficking difficult to establish.
The inquiry, which will report late next year, will take written and oral evidence from around Scotland in an attempt to identify the extent of human trafficking.
It will particularly focus on women brought to Scotland to work in the sex industry.
Baroness Kennedy said: “This inquiry is about making a reality of people's human rights and serving those whose rights have been violated.
“We will consider whether recommendations on prevention, prohibition, prosecution and protection are necessary – and ensure human rights are at the centre of Scotland's anti-trafficking policy and practice.
“It is impressive that Scotland is taking the lead on this issue by holding an inquiry.”
The commission said that although the problem was not unique to Scotland, co-operation between agencies and organisations working in the area made it easier to study.
Morag Alexander, EHRC Scotland commissioner, said human trafficking was one of the most extreme abuses of human rights.
“There is a suspicion that Scotland has a disproportionate share of the human trafficking trade, and some have expressed concern that there have been no convictions for trafficking offences in Scotland compared to more than 100 convictions in the rest of the UK,” she said.
“This inquiry will examine whether these concerns are well founded.”
But Graeme Pearson, former head of the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), said that when police investigated anecdotal evidence of sex-trade trafficking, they found very few victims.
“The evidence is very thin on the ground,” he told BBC Scotland.
“A lot of claims made by special interest groups and voluntary organisations is anecdotal, and when police drill down they find very little hard evidence.”
He said that even when there had been arrests, it was difficult to secure convictions in the courts, often because witnesses were reluctant to give evidence.
Det Ch Supt Stephen Whitelock, a spokesman for the SCDEA, said there had been no successful prosecutions in Scotland partly because victims were so reticent about coming forward.
“They will be fearful of reprisals from serious and organised crime, either on them or their families,” he told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme.
“That all makes for a very difficult scenario in terms with dealing with victims.
“From a policing point of view, we have to engage with victims and victim support groups to understand their concerns.”
The inquiry will also consider whether trafficking for sexual exploitation is treated merely as an asylum and immigration matter or a human rights issue.
Recent decisions in the European Court have made it clear governments must be proactive in dealing with human trafficking to ensure the protection of victims.