Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Thursday, June 9, 2022
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, NHS Staff Recruitment and Retention, Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Census, Covid-19 Inquiry, Scottish Local Government Elections (Candidacy Rights of Foreign Nationals) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time, Ukrainian Refugees (Trafficking)
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- NHS Staff Recruitment and Retention
- Business Motion
- Portfolio Question Time
- Covid-19 Inquiry
- Scottish Local Government Elections (Candidacy Rights of Foreign Nationals) Bill: Stage 3
- Decision Time
- Ukrainian Refugees (Trafficking)
Ukrainian Refugees (Trafficking)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-04703, in the name of Bill Kidd, on making Scotland hostile to trafficking and a safe place for Ukrainian refugees. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to please press their request-to-speak button now.
That the Parliament welcomes the launch of the Hope for Justice and anti-trafficking partners’ website, Ukrainians Welcome, which is aimed at protecting refugees in the UK against modern slavery, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) new recommendations on mitigating the risks of trafficking, following the crisis in Ukraine, as it considers refugees are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation and other forms of modern slavery; understands that the Scottish Government has committed to criminalising sex buyers, addressing the reported impunity of sex buyers in exploiting vulnerable women and children, and, through criminalisation, making Scotland hostile to human traffickers; considers that Baroness Helena Kennedy QC’s report on Misogyny and Criminal Justice in Scotland affirms the understanding of commercial sexual exploitation, including pornography, prostitution and trafficking, as “violence against women and girls”; recognises the OSCE’s reported findings that internet searches for Ukrainian women for sale for sexual exploitation has increased by between 200% to 600% across multiple countries in Europe since the Ukrainian refugee crisis started, and that, in the UK, internet searches for Ukrainian women has increased by 669%, compared with March 2021; considers that the criminalisation of sex buyers in Scotland would tackle the demand that fosters trafficking and respond to Palermo protocol commitments; commends the efforts of anti-trafficking organisations, such as International Justice Mission, which presented information to the Cross-Party Group on Human Trafficking on the work that it has been doing to prevent human trafficking occurring at the Romanian-Ukrainian border since the war in Ukraine started, and A21, which it understands is safely housing Ukrainian survivors of sex trafficking and runs trafficking awareness campaigns across Europe; considers that such examples show the success that is possible when authorities and charities work collaboratively to warn refugees of the signs of human traffickers and provide practical assistance to avoid refugees taking up unsafe offers of accommodation or transport; believes that vulnerability to trafficking increases when refugees are in transit or when financial resources reduce over time, and recognises what it sees as the invaluable work of individual sponsors, community groups and local organisations in welcoming refugees to Glasgow and the rest of Scotland, and ensuring that they are provided with the practical and emotional support needed to begin to find refuge and safety as they rebuild their lives.17:12
We are gathered here for this debate with one driving purpose. We are here to speak up for those who are vulnerable and those who have been exploited, and to use our positions of power and political influence to condemn the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.
Through the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the United Nations special rapporteur on the sale of children and anti-trafficking charities such as A21, the International Justice Mission and Hope for Justice, we understand that times of humanitarian crisis and war increase the vulnerability of women and children to sexual exploitation from criminal gangs. We also know that, within weeks of the war in Ukraine starting, online searches for “Ukrainian escorts” increased in the United Kingdom by 200 per cent, and searches for “Ukrainian women” increased by 669 per cent, in comparison with the previous year. As the UN Secretary General António Guterres said,
“For predators and human traffickers, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy. It is an opportunity—and women and children are the targets.”
The UK is a buyers’ market. We live in a country where human traffickers draw profit from men who pay to sexually exploit vulnerable women and children, whether that is through prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, such as livestreamed abuse. This financially motivated crime generates annual profits of £80 billion globally. To put that in perspective, £80 billion, or $100 billion, is more than double the profits that Apple Incorporated made in 2019. Scotland is not immune from trafficking for sexual exploitation. Impunity for sex buyers, and the consequent ability for traffickers and pimps to draw rampant profits, is an egregious stain on this country and we must put a stop to it now.
MSPs in the chamber are fully aware that the commoditisation of women and children through online child abuse material, pornography and the in-person sale of sexual exploitation, such as through strip clubs and prostitution, is violence against women and girls. That has been the long-held formal position of the Scottish Government, and the report “Misogyny—A Human Rights Issue” by Baroness Kennedy, which was published in March, reaffirms that understanding through a detailed assessment of the state of affairs of both hidden and prolific misogyny in Scotland. We know that moral standpoint inherently, yet the abuse goes on.
Worldwide, 92 per cent of the victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation are women and girls, making it a highly gendered form of exploitation. The OSCE report on discouraging demand for human trafficking also makes it clear that it is frequently an ethnically based crime. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation occur at the hands of predators who use power imbalances, violence and coercion to force vulnerable women and children into abuse.
Today, I want to use my time to speak up for those women and children who have been so mistreated. Today, we say “No more”. I want to compel my colleagues across this Parliament to shake off any form of passivity about the subject, because we have the power to do something about it. We can make Scotland hostile to predators who prey on the vulnerability of women and children by making it illegal for men to purchase sex. I commend the work of Ash Regan, Ruth Maguire, Rhoda Grant, Diane Martin—the head of the A Model for Scotland campaign—and many others who are driving the issue to the forefront of Scottish politics.
To those who have been abused, I say to you today that it is not your fault, it was never your fault, it was never okay and there is real hope. Hope is substantial, and it can be trusted. Through my work on the cross-party group on human trafficking, I have been overwhelmed by the commitment, drive and effectiveness of the organisations who are resolute in battling this issue head on. I thank UN House Scotland for its work in co-ordinating the cross-party group on human trafficking.
Last month the CPG had the privilege of hearing from the International Justice Mission, which works worldwide to tackle all forms of modern slavery, including sexual exploitation. Due to its reputation with police authorities and criminal justice systems in eastern Europe, the IJM was warned of the specific days on which war in Ukraine was expected to start. Consequently, it was in place to assist border officials in Romania when the refugee crisis started. That meant that every single Ukrainian to go through that major border crossing received information in their passports explaining the methods of human traffickers, how to avoid dangerous and false offers of aid, and helplines to use if they were approached by traffickers. The strategies, commitment and hope carried by anti-trafficking charities are reverberating throughout Europe as people step up to ensure the safety of Ukrainian refugees and the many other women and children who are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Hope for Justice is another example of a charity that is doing incredible work worldwide to rescue victims, restore lives and reform society. I thank it for its invaluable briefings to MSPs on how to protect Ukrainian refugees fleeing conflict. Its round-table work with University College London highlights that new risks specific to war interact with existing systemic risks in the UK. Moreover, Hope for Justice has highlighted that measures to enable perpetrator accountability must be a key part of our response to the vulnerabilities created by the Ukraine crisis. The IJM and the Medaille Trust have emphasised that tackling impunity and demand is a key part of effectively responding to modern slavery and helping to protect those in poverty who are vulnerable to exploitation.
In the Parliament, we must take action to tear apart the profits enjoyed by traffickers and pimps from sexual exploitation. Men purchasing sex will not ask of their own volition whether the victim they are raping was trafficked to the UK, or whether the girl is under 18, was previously a victim of child sex abuse or was forced into prostitution from an abusive relationship. Even in Ireland, where the laws are much stronger on the issue, prevention operations reported by the OSCE found that more than two thirds of men attempting to purchase sex through a fictitious ad proceeded to ask about services on offer after being told that the woman or child was a victim of human trafficking.
The issues that we are discussing today are clear, and the answer is clear. We must not put the burden of proof of exploitation on to the women and children who are being abused; rather, we must take away impunity from the men who commit sexual exploitation and who create demand and profits from trafficking.
To the survivors and the women and children who are still, as I speak, being exploited in Scotland, I say that you have my resolute commitment that I will vote to criminalise the men who purchase sex. We will battle this issue head on; again, you have my resolute commitment to that. I urge my fellow parliamentarians to follow in line. All the work to be done in this Parliament is absolutely worth it. For the one person protected from exploitation, we protect them all. We will fight for you.
Thank you, Mr Kidd. I call Ruth Maguire, who joins us remotely, to be followed by Donald Cameron.17:21
I warmly congratulate Bill Kidd on securing this important members’ business debate on preventing trafficking and protecting refugees. I also congratulate him on his excellent motion and speech, which powerfully joined the dots between the risk to women, the causes and consequences of trafficking, and violence, and which importantly, highlighted the solution.
The motion is timely, given the war in Ukraine and the perilous situation facing women and children fleeing that conflict, and, indeed, the support offered from the Government at this time.
I acknowledge that trafficking is not a new concern, that refugees from across the globe are at risk and that women are trafficked within Scotland and the UK, not just from outwith. The issue is complex. From our relative safety in Scotland, it is hard to put ourselves in a place where we can imagine the terror of having to flee our homes as war is waged, and the danger and risks of travelling to new countries to seek sanctuary.
The risk to women and children does not end when they arrive. Last week, I raised with the Scottish Government the need for active safeguarding and safety planning to continue in the medium and long term. As a Government with a commitment to feminist foreign policy, I expect our Government will have looked at the issue through a gendered lens and understands the unique risk to women and children.
Of course, initially the areas of most concern were at border areas and transport hubs. However, Scotland must also be aware of the indications or attempts to recruit potential victims of human trafficking and take action to counter and prevent them. With Europol warning about individual opportunistic abusers posing as volunteers and criminal networks that specialise in human trafficking, there are increasing concerns about the potential for perpetrators of abuse and human traffickers to exploit our current response to the war in Ukraine.
Minister Neil Gray agreed last week to consider my request to include violence against women and girls partnerships and services in the response at both strategic and operational levels and to commit to carrying out gender-specific risk and safety planning, not just at entry to the country but also in the medium and long term.
Helpfully, a statement recently released by the Glasgow violence against women partnership laid out in more detail the value that that would bring. In addition to the measures that I have just mentioned, it also asks that responses include the specific community integration needs of women and children, are cognisant of previous experiences of male violence against women and female-specific war crime, and, importantly, engage the Ukrainian community. It asks us to ensure that there is sufficient awareness of indicators of gender-based violence, including human trafficking and its particularly gendered nature, with front-line staff in key services such as health, social work, police, pharmacies, schools and housing receiving sufficient training on and knowledge of the impact of violence against women. Front-line staff must also fully understand the referral pathways, and hosts and supporters should be trauma aware and promote trauma-informed responses.
On monitoring, there should be oversight of where Ukrainian refugees are residing, and the Government should ensure disaggregation of data in terms of gender and age—I hope that the minister can tell us in summing up that that is already happening. Of course, it goes without saying that robust safeguarding, vetting and matching procedures need to be in place to mitigate the current risks and that those must be monitored and reviewed.
To protect women when they are here, they need accessible, culturally sensitive, trauma-informed, women-only services with access to interpreting; clear referral pathways to access support; and their medium and long-term needs met through rapid access to childcare and children’s education.
It is within our gift to address all those things to make our Ukrainian sisters safe and welcome here. Indeed, they do not necessarily require much more new resource or new services; rather, what is needed is a refocus on and recommitment to existing policies. Many of those things should be happening already to ensure the safety of all women and girls in Scotland.
While trafficking is a complex and wicked problem to address, there is a simple truth at the centre of it, which I know the Scottish Government recognises—a truth that should spur it on to join the dots, act promptly and legislate. Trafficking in human beings is a financially motivated crime, and exploitation of prostitution in particular is motivated by traffickers’ knowledge of how much money they will make from men paying for sexual access to women and girls. Removing that financial incentive for criminals by tackling men’s demand is the way to end this cruel trade in human suffering. Our words and policy intentions do not keep women and girls safe. We need legislation to punish those responsible, backed up by services to support victims. To end—not mitigate or manage—this harm requires a change in the law. I urge the Scottish Government to act now.17:27
As you know, Presiding Officer, I am, regrettably, unable to stay to the very end of this debate. I apologise to you and to Bill Kidd—I hope that that is acceptable.
I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing debate time for this important issue, particularly against the backdrop of the on-going war in Ukraine. Bill Kidd has done much work on the issue in his trademark quiet but effective way. I pay tribute to him for that.
I reiterate the Conservatives’ support for, and solidarity with, the people of Ukraine, who continue to face military action from Putin and truly awful violations of human rights. My colleague Sharon Dowey and I visited the Ukrainian community centre in March to hear about its work in supporting Ukrainians who are based in Scotland, many of whom have family in Ukraine. We also discussed its work in delivering vital aid to that country. It was a truly desperate time, and it remains so.
I welcome the joint working of the UK Government and the Scottish Government on the issue. Some matters rise above party politics, and this is surely one of them. In particular, I acknowledge the significant aid response of both Governments, including the Scottish Government’s initial £4 million package of financial aid to help those in desperate need and the UK Government’s commitment of £220 million of humanitarian aid to save lives and protect vulnerable people inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.
The response of both Governments has been welcome, particularly their actions to offer a pathway to Ukrainian refugees coming to Scotland, but that has undoubtedly given rise to people seeking to exploit the vulnerability of Ukrainian refugees. As Gillian Triggs, who is the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has warned:
“we are on high alert and warning refugees on the risks of predators and criminal networks who may attempt to exploit their vulnerability or lure them with promises of free transport, accommodation, employment or other forms of assistance.”
According to the UN, 90 per cent of refugees leaving Ukraine are women or children. As a result, we must be mindful of ensuring that those who are entering the UK and Scotland are doing so legally and safely.
It is also important that those who offer sanctuary to Ukrainians go through rigorous checks. I welcome the Scottish Government’s approach in applying enhanced disclosure checks to all hosts, not just where children are involved. As the Christian charity CARE for Scotland has noted, it is
“essential that these refugees do not ‘fall off the radar’ once they have been set up with hosts. There must be adequate follow-up checks by local authorities who are trained to spot the signs of exploitation.”
It has recommended that online businesses crack down
“on unofficial social media groups being used to match prospective hosts with refugees”
“Such sites can quickly become a forum for traffickers”.
It is worth acknowledging the measures that the UK Government is taking to clamp down on modern slavery and human trafficking. The reforms that are set out in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 include the setting out of circumstances in which confirmed victims will receive temporary leave to remain. That provides victims and decision makers with clarity on entitlement in line with international obligations. A modern slavery bill will come to the UK Parliament to further strengthen the protection of, and support for, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.
The issue is among the most serious issues that will come before the Parliament, and I heartily commend Bill Kidd for bringing it here for debate. Scotland and the rest of the UK must be at the forefront of tackling the evils of human trafficking and modern slavery, not just with the on-going crisis in Ukraine in mind. In all events, our ambition should be to eliminate those. I welcome the measures that are being taken to achieve that, and the work of charities, Government and other organisations to support the victims of such crimes, and I look forward to further developments in the area and to working together across Parliaments and political divides to end that scourge once and for all.17:31
I, too, congratulate Bill Kidd on securing this debate, and I join him in paying tribute to UN House Scotland for its work as secretariat to the cross-party group on human trafficking.
There is a media focus on the war in Ukraine, but it is clear that the standards and support that we would wish to be made available for Ukrainian refugees should be extended to all refugees. They should be treated equally and should be given a safe haven and the support that they need to deal with the trauma that they have faced.
The focus on the war in Ukraine has highlighted a number of issues relating to the support of refugees. I have heard of cases in which refugees who have accessed the homes for Ukraine scheme have found themselves to be at the mercy of those who would exploit them. I am pleased that protections have now been strengthened to weed out those people, but we also need to prosecute those who do that. We know that people who are escaping from war are easily exploited by people traffickers. They often do not have identification or paperwork, they are vulnerable, and they are a ready source of profit for traffickers. That profit can come from the refugees themselves using the little money that they have with them to pay traffickers to get into a country. It is also clear that refugees are vulnerable to traffickers who are looking for modern day slaves to feed our need for cheap labour and to feed the demand of the sex industry.
The Co-operative Party, which I am a member of, has promoted a modern day slavery charter, which encourages local authorities and organisations to look at their procurement processes to ensure that they are not inadvertently supporting those slavers’ activities. We all have a role in that, especially those of us who use cash-based industries. We must remember that trafficking and exploitation go on in plain sight. If you suspect it, report it.
That exploitation is particularly prevalent in the sex industry. That is because there is a demand for purchasing sex, which is legal in the UK—hence the attraction of sex trafficking to feed and profit from that demand.
Bill Kidd has highlighted the OSCE and Thomson Reuters research that showed that there was a 200 per cent rise in UK internet searches for “Ukrainian escorts” in the early days of the war. That shows the role of those pimping websites in the exploitation of trafficked people. It also totally undermines the myth that sex buyers are unaware that trafficked women are being used to fulfil their demand for sex, and it clearly shows that, worse than their being uncaring about that, many of them actively seek to exploit trafficked women and to assault them.
That should not be a surprise, because we all know that prostitution is violence against women. It is gendered and misogynistic. It comes from age-old violence and men wanting to possess and control women.
It is high time that we became a less welcoming country for traffickers and a country in which those who buy sex are held to account and are criminalised and punished for their abuse. Every day in which they continue unchallenged is a day in which we turn a blind eye to the misery of trafficking.
I know that the minister is committed to changing that. I ask her to do so as a matter of urgency because, while we wait, more people are being traded into misery.
I thank all my colleagues for their powerful contributions. I am especially grateful to Bill Kidd for lodging such a detailed motion, which highlights the disproportionate impact of trafficking on women and children.
It should be noted that, when drilling down into the demographics of the victims of trafficking and piecing together the names and faces of those who have been abused and traded as commodities, we find that a disproportionate number are minority ethnic women and girls. Our hearts go out to them as they face unimaginable situations of fear and abuse, and I take this opportunity to highlight their plight.
The motion refers to the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to criminalising the purchasing of sex. That commitment was first made following the passing of the bill that became the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015. During the passage of that legislation, it was highlighted that removing the financial incentive for those who organise the sale of sex leads to a reduction in demand among those who buy sex. That should be an essential part of any strategy to tackle human trafficking effectively. It is now seven years since that law was passed, so I hope that the minister will give us an update on the timetable for delivering on that commitment.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2.5 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. In a report in April 2022 by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and University College London, Dr Laura Wood noted that Ukraine has hosted students from across Africa, Asia and the middle east for many years. Since the war began, those who have not managed to return home have faced
“segregation within refugee responses”.
Many of them are desperate and at considerable risk of exploitation by traffickers as they seek to find a way to escape the war, complete their qualifications or return home. It is a truly dire situation.
The overrepresentation of ethnic minorities among the victims of trafficking has played out in countries all over the world. In the US, between 2008 and 2010, 40 per cent of identified victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation were black. That compares with 13 per cent in relation to the general population. A 2012 study of online sex buyers in the United States found that 85 per cent of buyers were white. That highlights the clear racial disparities between buyers and victims.
Although the data might be sobering, it is the stories that truly resonate. Each one is too familiar and too harrowing to forget. For example, Renata’s story—Renata is not her name—has been highlighted by the Medaille Trust. Renata was a law student from Latin America who was offered a job in Italy and was told that she would be working in a restaurant and could earn money while continuing her education. She arrived safely, but traffickers were waiting for her. She was abducted, raped and forced into prostitution. That lasted for years until she finally escaped. She provided evidence about her experience to the Italian police, thinking that she was now safe, but, unfortunately, the traffickers found her and the abuse continued.
Although Renata’s story is now one of hope—ultimately, she managed to get help through the Medaille Trust and was able to get back into education—it gives us a devastating insight into the experiences of those who are consumed by this abhorrent trade.
The global situation that we are in is entirely unacceptable. With annual profits from the sexual exploitation of trafficking victims totalling more than £100 billion, we need to act urgently to effectively deter those who seek to capitalise on the degradation and dehumanisation of vulnerable women and children.17:40
I am delighted to follow Kaukab Stewart, who gave an excellent speech. I congratulate Bill Kidd on not only bringing the motion to Parliament but giving a very passionate and strong speech. I associate myself with his remarks.
When the conflict in Ukraine broke out and there was a mass movement of people, particularly women and children, out of Ukraine and into neighbouring countries, with some going further afield, I shared the concerns that many others had about the nature of the checks that were done to ensure that women and children would be safe where they were going. There were concerns about how they would be treated, the suitability of the sponsors and the suitability of the accommodation that they would be placed in.
Central to my politics is the idea that we cannot place an economic value on human life. As people, we are not simply economic commodities; we have an equal and measurable worth. Human trafficking is completely contrary to that idea. I cannot find the English words to describe how much I detest human traffickers and the misery that they bring into the lives of, in particular, women and girls. Human traffickers see people as objects to make profit, and they put people through unimaginable pain and suffering, as we have heard from the speeches that have been made.
We should be proud of some of the things that we have done as a United Kingdom, one of which is the Modern Slavery Act 2015. That legislation was introduced by Theresa May when she was the Home Secretary. The 2015 act was one of the reasons why I was proud to serve in a very lowly role in Theresa May’s Government—it was probably the lowest possible rung; in fact, I served at such a low level that it probably was not even a rung. The legislation was world leading when it was introduced, and we should celebrate the 2015 act, but we should not become complacent. We must build on the 2015 act and ensure that the United Kingdom remains a world leader in tackling this abhorrent crime.
The 2015 act was the first legislation of that sort in Europe. It introduced tough new penalties for those behind human trafficking, with the worst offenders facing long sentences—in fact, life sentences. Through the creation of a new police intelligence tool, it prevents anyone who has previously been convicted of human trafficking from travelling to a country where they have exploited vulnerable people in the past. The 2015 act also delivers enhanced protection and support for victims, and it requires businesses to show that human trafficking is not taking place in their company or in any of their supply chains. In my view, that aspect of the act should be more rigorously enforced.
Given that trends in human trafficking change consistently, it is important that we, as a country, revise and update the 2015 act to ensure that it is designed in a way to tackle modern practices. Therefore, the United Kingdom Government and all of us, as parliamentarians, must consider whether the recommendations that were made in the independent review of the 2015 act can be incorporated into legislation.
Since the UK Parliament legislated in 2015, many countries around the world have introduced their own legislation in the area. The United Kingdom Government and all of us can learn from the lessons from other countries. It is my hope that we will reach out to our allies around the world to improve global efforts and co-ordination in tackling human trafficking. We cannot stand still in this area, which is why amendments to the 2015 act were part of the recent Queen’s speech. I look forward, as I am sure all members do, to reading the details of the bill when it is introduced later this year.
Human trafficking—modern slavery—remains one of the great human rights issues of our time. Although we have shown global leadership in our efforts to rid the world of this barbaric evil, it is right, as Bill Kidd highlighted, that we renew our determination to combat and eliminate it.
One of my great political heroes is William Wilberforce. It was the United Kingdom that took an historic stand in outlawing the slave trade two centuries ago. One of the most wonderfully inspiring historic images of that campaign is the slavery medallion that was produced by Josiah Wedgwood. The image is that of a kneeling man in chains, with the words
“Am I not a man and a brother?”
inscribed underneath—“Am I not a woman and a sister?” would be appropriate for the tone of our debate.
I hope that, as parliamentarians, we will use this debate to renew our commitment to stand up to the abhorrent crimes that we have described in our speeches, and that we will use all our energy, and concentrate our combined efforts, on preserving the values and freedoms that define our country and which have defined it for generations.17:46
I extend my thanks to Mr Kidd for the opportunity to discuss such an important issue. No one can disagree with the premise that we want to make Scotland hostile to trafficking and a safe place for Ukrainian refugees. His moving speech to us this afternoon contained a strong call for action, which I heed.
Scotland has a proud history of welcoming refugees and people seeking sanctuary from war and from violence, but ensuring the wellbeing and safety of those who are arriving from Ukraine is critical to that aim. Under our supersponsor scheme, displaced people are accommodated safely in temporary accommodation until disclosure and property checks have been completed, mitigating the risks that are unfortunately inherent in the UK system. Those checks interrogate national and local systems and have been designed to maximise opportunities to identify and remove host applicants who may be unsuitable. We have pressed the UK Government to replicate our scheme and to develop a public sector matching service, which was mentioned by a couple of speakers, and we will continue to do that.
We have also published public protection guidance to support all operational partners that are involved in safeguarding. The guidance was developed with stakeholders and it takes into account the need for a gendered approach, which was mentioned by Ruth Maguire. I note the many other practical suggestions that she made during her speech.
Additionally, we have established a new trafficking and exploitation strategy group to ensure that risks and concerns that are identified are understood and addressed in a multiagency approach. The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance and JustRight Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government, have developed a leaflet including information on indicators of trafficking. The leaflet has been translated into Ukrainian and Russian and it is available at welcome hubs and has been shared widely. I think that that is very relevant to the aspirations of the Ukrainians Welcome website of Hope for Justice and its anti-trafficking partners, which has been referenced. I also want to highlight the practical information that is available in the Ukraine section of the Scottish Government’s website for those fleeing Ukraine and for potential hosts in Scotland.
I know that this is not a time for complacency and we will continue to do everything that we can to stamp out all forms of trafficking and exploitation arising from this conflict and otherwise. My vision of Scotland is one where all women and girls are treated with respect and not one where we turn a blind eye to abuse, violence or trafficking. Tackling sexual exploitation is key to realising that, and a key part of that work is our programme for government commitment to develop a model for Scotland that effectively challenges men’s demand for prostitution. That commitment is in line with our international obligations to incorporate the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women into Scots law. Article 6, in particular, compels Scotland to
“take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.”
War in Ukraine has tragically highlighted—Rhoda Grant’s speech brought this out this evening—the need to take action to challenge and deter men’s demand. The conflict is putting women and girls at further risk of exploitation. We have seen the disturbing reality of that with the reports of the 200 per cent increase in UK internet searches for “Ukrainian women” that was mentioned by a number of speakers this evening, including Mr Kidd.
In addition to the international crises adding to the pressures that can fuel sexual exploitation, tackling the systemic disadvantages and inequalities that women face is critical. The development of our model takes that into account and the reality that that demand is linked to human trafficking. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 gives police and prosecutors greater powers to detect and bring to justice those who are responsible for trafficking, as well as strengthening protection for survivors. Police Scotland actively investigates any reports concerning human trafficking and exploitation and will continue to work closely with partners across the UK and internationally to share intelligence and to co-ordinate work to tackle it.
It is important that we tackle exploitation wherever it happens, whether that is online or offline. Procuring for the purposes of prostitution is still an offence if it is committed online and Police Scotland will actively investigate all reports of sexual exploitation, including those of online sexual exploitation. The online aspects are at the forefront of our minds in the development of the model. We are continuing to liaise with the UK Government and Ofcom on the UK Online Safety Bill.
Our work to challenge men’s demand will continue to require a collective response right across Government, the wider public and the third sector. A short-life working group with representation from key stakeholders was tasked with developing the fundamental principles to underpin the model. It held its last formal meeting in April, with further targeted stakeholder engagement to follow as part of finalising those principles, which will be published later this year. The principles will help to create a solid foundation on which we can uphold the aspirations and values that we want to see reflected in the model. They will also help to draw together our efforts to challenge and deter men’s demand and raise greater awareness of some of the challenges that those who are involved in prostitution can face.
We have committed to engaging with those with direct or lived experience to shape services and are committed to ensuring that our approach makes things better for all who are involved in prostitution. In the coming months, we will publish lived-experience research, which we have commissioned to better understand the current support service provision and the needs of service users. That will also inform our developing model.
Also to be published this year is an evidence review on international approaches to challenging demand. That is being carried out by the Scottish Government’s justice analytical services and it will inform the development of the model while obviously taking into account Scotland’s unique legal and societal landscape.
I give my commitment again this afternoon that I will continue on this work across Government and the chamber and with stakeholders as our approach to tackling sexual exploitation further develops, contributing to our aim to be a society that treats all with kindness, dignity and compassion. That is reflected in our response supporting those who are displaced by war in Ukraine, and I thank all who are involved in that response.
Thank you, minister. That concludes the debate and I close this meeting.Meeting closed at 17:54.