Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

Human Trafficking. What health workers need to know.

Human Trafficking is a crime against humanity. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.

The primary purposes for which people are trafficked are:

  • Sexual exploitation
    Forcible or deceptive recruitment for prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation.
  • Domestic servitude
    Employment in private homes where ill treatment, humiliation and exhausting working hours are common. This can also involve sexual and physical abuse.
  • Bonded/forced labour
    In construction, agriculture, horticulture, marine farming, textiles, catering, nail bars, care homes, and car washes. This can also include forced involvement in illicit activities such as cannabis cultivation and pirate DVD selling.
  • Child trafficking
    For begging, benefit fraud, illegal adoption, forced marriage, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. When children (i.e. under 18 years old) are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, simply transporting them into exploitative conditions constitutes trafficking.

Often trafficked people have taken what is presented as a job opportunity, are lied to about the work, pay and conditions, and subsequently find themselves in situations akin to slavery. People are trafficked both across and within the borders of a state.

Who is at risk?

56% of trafficking victims are women and girls.  44% are men and boys.  The majority are aged between 16 – 30 years.

Male victims are more likely to be forced into areas such as construction and agriculture.

Female victims are more likely to be forced into commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

Trafficking occurs throughoutScotlandand is not confined to the major cities.

Health impact

The health impact for those subjected to trafficking can be profound and enduring: both in health risks associated with exploitation and abuse, and in the longer-term psychological impact of being enslaved. 

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Substance misuse
  • Headaches, fatigue, dizzy spells and back pain
  • Respiratory problems
  • Depression, anxiety, hostility, dissociation and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidality
  • Signs of physical assault
  • Signs of rape and sexual assault
  • HIV, STIs and urinary tract infections
  • Repeated terminations of pregnancy

Other potential indicators are:

  • Distrust of authorities
  • Accompanied by a “minder”
  • Found in or connected to a type of location likely to be used for exploitation
  • Involved in work commonly associated with trafficking
  • Passport or documents held by someone else.

A trafficked person may be a virtual prisoner.  Seeing healthcare staff may be a rare opportunity for him or her to tell someone about what is happening.

Your role as a health worker

As a health worker you are in a unique position to respond to patients who have been subject to trafficking by treating them with respect and dignity and by:

  • Being aware of the possibility of human trafficking
  • Recognising signs and symptons
  • Broaching the subject sensitively
  • Listening and making time
  • Checking current safety position
  • Documenting your findings (not in handheld notes)
  • Giving information and referring on to other services

Further information on what to look for and what you can do to help can be found in the guidance.

Help and information

ARCHWAY Rape and Sexual Assault Centre:
0141 211 8175

0141 630 4985

International Organisation for Migration (IOM):
0207 811 6060

Migrant Helpline:
07837 937737

Refugee Action:
0808 800 0007

Scottish Refugee Council:
0141 248 9799

Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA):
0141 276 7729

The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC):
0844 778 2406

Support for Survivors

If you are looking for support for your own experiences of GBV you can call:

Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline
0800 027 1234

Rape Crisis Scotland
08088 010302

or click on:

Scottish Womens Aid

Survivor Scotland

Galop National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline


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