Trafficking Victims "Unaware" Of Exploitation

Foreign prostitutes, builders and drug workers have been reluctant to identify themselves as victims of human trafficking because they are living "relatively decent" and better-paid lives than they had been, according to crime fighters.

Some have developed an emotional and economic bond with their traffickers, or may be reluctant to come forward out of fear of intimidation or deportation, a human trafficking summit at Holyrood heard.

While some may be earning more money than they have before, some are working for "slave labour wages", crime agency officials said.

Police Scotland has dealt with 73 potential human trafficking cases since April 1 2014, but only 17 crimes were identified and just six were reported to the Crown Office, Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told the summit.

National Crime Agency deputy director of organised crime Caroline Young said Romanians trafficked for sex is a particular problem in Scotland.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland said the failure of victims to recognise that they are victims is one of the obstacles to prosecution.

Mr Livingstone told the story of a Romanian woman engaged in off street prostitution in a flat.

"The first responders attended and quite clearly she was being facilitated through a trafficker, a man who was making the arrangements to support that individual," he said.

"The female herself was actually, in her eyes, living a relatively - relative to where she had been - decent life.

"She had money, she didn't wish necessarily to have legal support, she didn't define herself as a victim - but she was a victim, and was treated as such."

Police also found trafficked Polish males working in the building and construction industry.

"Again they had money, more money they had previously, and they were getting fed but they were getting exploited," he said.

"They didn't see themselves as victims, they didn't necessarily particularly welcome an intervention, but they were victims of organised crime.

"Sitting behind that was international organised crime, and we are taking that forward and getting support by Europol and the international support that network gives us."

A cannabis farm tended by illegal immigrants who also did not see themselves as victims was also uncovered by police, he added.

"We need to sit behind them and make sure we get to the organised crime that sits behind that, but not re-victimise the individuals who are subject to that," Mr Livingstone said.

Ms Young said: "Romania figures again and again, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the east of England and the south west, which is something we need to have a look at.

"In Scotland, there were 55 potential victims (in 2013), the majority of which was sexual exploitation and Romanians."

Speaking ahead of the summit, Mr Mulholland said: "One of the the difficulties, it seems to me from my experience dealing with this type of criminality, is that often victims don't recognise that they are indeed victims.

"And there's a bond which has built up between the victim and the trafficker, an emotional and economic bond, and part of today's conference is to try to understand that.

"The scope of human trafficking is not just sexual exploitation, it also pervades economic exploitation often with the person exploited being an illegal immigrant where it is in their interests not to come forward and identify themselves, as they perceive it, to the authorities because they think they will be deported or whatever.

"Also we are finding that really vulnerable people are being exploited for, really, slave labour wages and that is something that we are looking to understand better so that we are better able to deal with it."

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