Human Trafficking

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings. It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in Scotland.
The majority of our scottish population are unaware of how big this issue is in our country. Phrases such as ‘slavery’ and ‘human trafficking’ seem far removed from our society. But the reality is, it’s all around us but we just need to be aware and know what to look for. 
Let us show you and help us by sharing this information and raising awareness!

Woman in despair looking at bleak wall.

Types of exploitation

Male and Female Symbols in Prohibition Sign.

Sexual Exploitation

A person trafficked for sex may be controlled by violence, threats, substance abuse, deception or grooming, with extreme physical or psychological domination.
Large eye watching forced labourer with hammer.

Forced Labour

Forced labour is work done under the threat of a penalty such as violence or harm to family. Victims are often further controlled by debt bondage.
Hands in chains.

Domestic Servitude

A person is forced to provide services with the obligation to live on or in a property without the possibility of changing those circumstances.
Human Heart

Organ Harvesting

A person who is trafficked and specifically chosen for the harvesting of organs or tissues, such as kidneys, liver etc. without consent, to be sold.

Spot the signs

Physical appearance

  • Shows signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, anxious/agitated or appear withdrawn and neglected. They may have untreated injuries.


  • Rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control, influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
  • Relationships which don't seem right - for example a young teenager appearing to be the boyfriend/girlfriend of a much older adult.

Poor living conditions

  • Be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and/or living and working at the same address.

Restricted freedom of movement

  • Have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in and day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.
  • Have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents retrained, e.g. passports.

Unusual travel times

  • Be dropped off/collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night.
  • Unusual travel arrangements - children being dropped off/picked up in private cars/taxis at unusual times and in places where it isn't clear why they'd be there.

Reluctant to seek help

  • Avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.

Indications of Sexual Exploitation:

  • Sex workers may appear scared or intimidated.
  • The individual may be transported to and from clients.
  • Individuals may be closely guarded.
  • The person may be 'branded' with a tattoo indicating ownership.
  • Sex workers may show signs of physical abuse, including bruising, scarring and cigarette burns.
  • The individual may be unable to keep payment and may have restricted or no access to their earnings.
  • The person may have a limited English vocabulary, restricted to sexualised words.
  • Multiple female foreign nationals may be living at the same address.
  • The person may sleep in the premise in which they work, which could indicate a brothel is operating.
  • A property might have male callers day and night who only stay for a short time.
  • There may be details of sexual activity such as cards and advertisements found nearby.

Indications of Child Exploitation:

  • The child may have mood swings, including being angry, upset or withdrawn.
  • The child may show signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
  • They may be dressed inappropriately for their age.
  • The child may go missing at night or weekends and may not be clear about their whereabouts.
  • They may not attend school.
  • The child may have gifts, presents or expensive items which they cannot explain.

Indications of Labour Exploitation:

  • Individuals may show signs of psychological or physical abuse. They might appear frightened, withdrawn or confused.
  • Workers may not have free movement and may always be accompanied.
  • Individuals often lack protective equipment or suitable clothing and have not been trained to safely fulfil the requirements of the role.
  • The person may not have access to their own documents, such as ID or their passport, with the employer having confiscated them.
  • Individuals may not have a contract and may not be paid National Minimum Wage or not paid at all.
  • Workers are forced to stay in accommodation provided by the employer. This accommodation could be overcrowded.
  • Individuals could live on site.
  • Workers could be transported to and from work, potentially with multiple people in one vehicle.
  • The person might not accept money or be afraid to accept payment.
  • Workers may work particularly long hours.

Indications of Domestic Servitude:

  • The individual may be held in their employer's home and forced to carry out domestic tasks such as providing child care, cooking and cleaning.
  • The individual may not be able to leave the house on their own, or their movements could be monitored.
  • The person may work in excess of normal working hours.
  • The individual may not have access to their own belongings, including their ID, but also items such as their mobile phone, which can isolate them.
  • The employer may be abusive, both physically and verbally.
  • The person may not interact often with the family they are employed by.
  • The person may be deprived of their own personal living space, food, water, or medical care.
  • The individual may stand out from other family members, noticeable as they may wear poorer quality clothing.

Indications of forced criminal activities:

  • The person is recruited and forced/deceived into conducting some form of criminal activity such as pick pocketing, begging, cannabis cultivation and benefit fraud.
  • Same indicators as for forced labour but for cannabis cultivation you may also notice:
         - Windows of property are permanently covered from the inside.
         - Visits to property are at unusual times.
         - Property may be residential.
         - Unusual noises coming from the property e.g. machinery.
         - Pungent smells coming from the property.

Report a Concern!

Contact Searchlight Scotland on 01224587496 (local rate call) or email to report a concern. Searchlight is open during office hours only; if you cannot reach us, we advise that you call the National Modern Slavery helpline on 08000 121 700. We advise you always call 999 if you believe it to be an emergency.



  • 43 million people are in slavery across the globe.
  • An estimated 136,000 victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK. experts say this is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year.


  • Human trafficking has been identified in every local authority in Scotland.
  • Scotland has a 126% increase in people being rescued from human trafficking.
*2019 NRM Data, National Crime Agency

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