The first ever campaign targeting the perpetrators of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland has been launched today.
Police 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.
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Since January 1 this year, 44 women and two men across Scotland have identified themselves as victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and have come forward to seek support.
Of those, seven were girls under 18.
The campaign will involve advertising on buses, trains and across social media, highlighting the types of suspicious activity that could indicate human trafficking in Scottish communities.
Police have warned that some of the signs of potential exploitation include multiple female foreign nationals living at one address, male callers day and night staying for short periods of time, and occupants of properties rarely spotted going outside.
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.”
During their investigations, police found that on one day alone more than 1,700 adverts relating to people involved in prostitution in Scotland appeared on the internet.
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.”
In recent operations across Scotland, 12 potential victims of trafficking were identified.
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.
Anyone with information can call the police on 101, or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 121 700.