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Human trafficking warning: It’s happening today, right now, in every city and every town

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One of Scotland’s leading campaigners against human trafficking has described the hundreds of women helped by her organisation in the past three years as the tip of the iceberg.

Bronagh Andrew, operations manager for Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA), is calling for the criminalisation of paying for sex in off-street venues, which is not currently illegal in Scotland. She said her group has assisted many women coerced into sexual exploitation in places such as Inverness, and rural Caithness as well as our major cities.

Glasgow-based TARA, which supports victims trafficked for sexual exploitation, has helped 293 women in the past three years alone.

Andrew said: “I have been involved in supporting trafficked women since 2004 and there’s been an increase more or less year-on-year.

“A lot of people think it only happens abroad or in big cities, but there have been victims identified in every one of Scotland’s local authorities. It’s an issue in our towns and cities, and our rural communities.”

Trafficking victims sold into slavery have been identified across Scotland. Three men and a woman, thought to be Romanian, were held after police raids in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, last week in a trafficking probe allegedly linked to fruit-pickers.

Support organisations say women are duped into travelling to Scotland with promises of a better life before being sold into prostitution.

However, Andrew said: “It’s about Scottish and UK nationals being trafficked and exploited here, as well as people from abroad being brought to the UK.

“Where there is an off-street sex industry, there will be women trafficked and hidden in plain sight.” We told last month that official UK figures showed there were 387 people feared trafficked here last year alone, a four-fold increase in under a decade.

Andrew said: “The official statistics are the tip of the iceberg. They don’t reflect the people who are in situations of exploitation in Scotland right now and have not been able to seek help.

“If you are in a situation of exploitation, help is available 24/7 from organisations like ourselves, Migrant Help and the police.

“The women we support are often survivors of childhood abuse and child trafficking. They are then subjected to abuse at the hands of Scottish men willing to pay for sex. They suffer trauma after being abused on a daily basis.

“We have supported women from teenage years to their 60s. Men who pay for sex are responsible for creating this market. We support the criminalisation of paying for sex, but think this can only happen when there’s action to prevent exploitation, and services to help get the women involved out of prostitution.”

Kirsty Thomson, of human rights lawyers JustRight Scotland, which operates a dedicated anti-trafficking unit, said: “The reality is that human trafficking is happening throughout Scotland and survivors tell me it is happening in plain sight.

“We need increased awareness so that people can see when human trafficking is happening in order that more people can be protected.”

The Scottish Government said trafficking human beings was “an appalling abuse of human rights” and added work had begun to ensure it was “recognised, recorded and punished and that victims get the help they need”.