New guidance has been put in place to help identify victims at risk of exploitation by serious organised crime groups.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service remains resolute in its commitment to ensuring that those who commit human trafficking or exploitation offences are effectively prosecuted and that victims are successfully identified and protected.
Drawn up by the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce and published by the Scottish Government, the new guidance (Forewords - Criminal exploitation: practitioner guidance - gov.scot (www.gov.scot) is aimed primarily at practitioners such as those working in education, social work, the third sector, police and the National Health Service.
The purpose is to ensure that practitioners are equipped to identify people, particularly children and vulnerable individuals, who are at risk of being recruited and exploited by criminals, and to effect early intervention to divert them from involvement in criminality.
Although the guidance is not specifically aimed at prosecutors, it provides a helpful overview of criminal exploitation and how to identify those at risk.
The term ‘criminal exploitation’ is used to describe a situation where a person is induced to commit crime for the benefit of the exploiter.
Potential victims of human trafficking and exploitation can therefore include individuals who at first sight may appear to be offenders.
Exploitation covers a myriad of scenarios. These include individuals being recruited by crime groups and forced into, for example, distributing controlled drugs or allowing their homes to be used as a safe house for the storage of drugs or illicit cash – a practice known as ‘cuckooing’.
Victims of serious organised crime exploitation are also at risk of being directed to commit thefts, to perform forced labour, or to engage in prostitution.
Victims may be compelled to commit offences as a result of being subjected to force, threats or deception by criminals.
Children and vulnerable adults are likely to be at greater risk of being exploited and drawn into criminal activity and, in these circumstances, exploitation may be achieved through manipulation of the child or vulnerable adult without any need to resort to force, threats or deception.
Solicitor General for Scotland, Ruth Charteris KC, said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to the effective, rigorous, and fair prosecution of individuals who exploit or manipulate others to carry out crimes on their behalf.
“These new guidelines will put early detection of children and vulnerable individuals front and centre of our ongoing priority to protect communities from the impact of serious organised crime groups.
“We will continue to work closely with the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce to make Scotland a hostile environment for serious organised crime groups.”
Exploitation is not in itself a criminal offence, but it forms part of the offence of human trafficking in terms of section 1 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 and is defined in section 3 of the Act.