Human Trafficking (Prostitution)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:01 pm on 25th May 2006.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:01 pm, 25th May 2006

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3983, in the name of Trish Godman, on the trafficking of impoverished women into forced prostitution in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is seriously concerned over reports that criminal gangs are engaged in the evil trafficking of impoverished women into Scotland, England and Wales who are then compelled, often by threats or use of physical violence and degradation, to work as prostitutes; notes that this is a problem throughout Scotland, but particularly in the west of Scotland; believes that Scotland cannot claim immunity from this unsavoury international sexual trading of poor women from European, Asian, African and South American countries; acknowledges the difficulties involved in tracking down these predatory traffickers in women, but believes that the Scottish Executive, in co-operation with the UK Government and our police service, should do all that is necessary to bring such wrongdoers to court where it is hoped that they will, upon conviction, receive condign punishment.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:04 pm, 25th May 2006

I thank all the members who signed my motion on the trafficking of impoverished women into forced prostitution in Scotland. We are witnessing a new evil in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK in the form of slavery. Each year, about 5,000 women and schoolgirls are smuggled or trafficked into the United Kingdom and compelled by the most brutal means imaginable to work as prostitutes.

This morning, Norah Summers, the national convener of the Church of Scotland Guild, reported to the General Assembly of the kirk on the issue. She said:

"Human trafficking was the single most significant issue raised by the Church's partners from all areas of the world during a consultation with partner churches last year."

Much needs to be done, and I shall be putting a number of questions to the Minister for Communities in a moment or two.

Thousands of young women and girls have been smuggled into the United Kingdom on treacherous promises of jobs. Almost all of them come from impoverished countries in eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. Some of the criminals who smuggle women and girls into Scotland from eastern Europe are themselves illegal immigrants.

The brutality inflicted upon those defenceless women is sickening. When a man has sex with a girl who is frightened, beaten and intimidated, that is rape. There is no other way to describe it. What kind of animals are these clients? In the main, they are family men aged between 25 and 50 and on reasonable incomes. I believe that those men should be charged with rape, as that is what they have committed. I am cynical enough, however, to believe that those rapists would get off such a charge in a Scottish court, given the lamentable and disgracefully low conviction rates in our courts for rape. Evil criminals are trafficking impoverished women into Glasgow, Edinburgh and other cities throughout the UK, who are then abused by affluent clients from the leafy suburbs. I wonder how many of those men, apart from being so-called good husbands and fathers, are also churchgoers.

What is to be done? I would like to offer my thanks to the Evening Times, the Daily Record, The Herald and the Sunday Herald, and to other newspapers, for their public examination of those evil criminals. It has been known for some time that people trafficking is the third largest money earner in the criminal underworld, following drugs and weapons smuggling. One of my questions to the minister is: what representations have been made to the Westminster Government anent the urgent need for the UK to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings? Twenty-seven European countries have already signed up; I believe that the UK should be the 28th. The minister may say that that is a reserved matter and must be left to Westminster, but I remind him, if he needs reminding, that this Parliament recently voiced its unanimous concern about the one-sided extradition treaty with the United States of America, even though that is a reserved matter.

Signing the convention, which has the support of many organisations and churches, would give immediate succour to ill-treated women. For a start, they would be given a 30-day breathing space and hence would not be immediately deported. The Home Office has allowed Glasgow that breathing space, and I think that that should be rolled out across Scotland. The safety of those women would therefore be guaranteed, and they might also be willing to testify against their criminal bosses and abusive clients. I believe that those brave women who agree to act as witnesses should be treated as vulnerable witnesses when giving evidence in our courts.

The Home Office is reluctant to sign the convention at a moment of mounting controversy over illegal immigration but, as the Sunday Herald pointed out, that ignores the compassion that forced Wilberforce to campaign against slavery 200 years ago. Victims should be allowed a period of four to six weeks' residence and, once assessed, should perhaps be granted residence permits. That would, apart from all else, allow them to find work far removed from the sex industry. I ask the minister to tell us what discussions have taken place with the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office concerning women rescued from those evil circumstances in Scotland and their voluntary return to their countries of origin. They must be protected from the threat of being abducted again.

Finally, I want to hear from the minister that he and his colleagues are doing their utmost to provide leadership and assistance to the police and other agencies concerned with those matters. Help must also be given to voluntary organisations that seek to encourage those women to escape from their captors. One of their tasks is surely to persuade such victims that they need not fear the police or the state in Scotland. We, as MSPs, have to demonstrate to trafficked women sex workers that their contemptible clients are not representative of the Scottish people and that the overwhelming majority of Scots offer genuine support and the hand of friendship to those visitors who have been dragged into our country. They deserve nothing less.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 5:09 pm, 25th May 2006

I thank—hardly congratulate, but thank—Trish Godman for bringing the matter to the attention of Parliament.

I believe that the issue is trafficking, not necessarily prostitution. As Trish Godman pointed out, prostitution is the heartrending result, but the issue that must be tackled is trafficking. I applaud Trish Godman's comment about the need for the UK to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. We cannot tackle trafficking unless we do that.

I would go further than Trish Godman and say that women who can be persuaded to testify against the gangs who bring them here should be allowed some time to put their lives in order before they are sent back again. As we well know, there are ties that bind from here back to the countries of origin, where the women have family that can be terrorised and so on. It is not good enough for us to say, when a woman is brave enough to testify against the gangs that brought her here, that she should go back after a wee while. She should be allowed to stay if we are convinced that she is of sound character and that she came here with good intentions. We can determine that fairly.

An issue that Trish Godman mentioned, almost in passing, is integral to tackling the problem. She referred to the position of the voluntary and support organisations. They must be funded and supported to the hilt as they are much better and much quicker at reaching the women than anybody else.

I will not add much more. Members will know of my interest in the management of street prostitution, but I do not see this issue as being about that, because those lassies are not on the street. They are hidden away where people cannot get at them. It is not even the same as women who are working in the indoor sex industry. It is more pernicious and horrible than that and must be tackled differently: it must be seen as a problem of people trafficking.

I thank Trish Godman again for bringing the issue before Parliament.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:12 pm, 25th May 2006

I congratulate Trish Godman on her heartfelt speech. We should campaign vigorously on the issue; I have no doubt that most members of the Parliament do so.

Sex trafficking is one of the most evil and lucrative illegal activities conducted around the globe; it is second only to drug trafficking. The revenues from trafficking are an estimated £5 billion annually.

I will talk about prostitution, which is linked to trafficking. I disagree with Margo MacDonald when she says that the matter is not about prostitution. It is reported that there are 7,000 sex workers in Scotland and 85 per cent of them are believed to be trafficked victims—a majority of them from eastern Europe. Scotland is a target destination for traffickers because of its reputation for tolerating prostitution.

There is a great link between prostitution, sex trafficking, organised crime and the drug industry. I hope to be able to prove to Margo MacDonald exactly what happened in one enlightened country, Sweden, which used to have an open-border attitude towards prostitution. Since Sweden outlawed the buying of sex and decriminalised the selling of sex in 1999, the number of prostitutes in the capital dropped by two thirds and the number of men who bought sex dropped by 80 per cent. Most important, there is a clear correlation between the legislation on prostitution and the incredible drop in trafficking. I will mention some figures.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I doubt whether the figures that Sandra White has given refer to the current year. There was a drop in the figures immediately after Sweden criminalised the buying of sex, but the number of those involved in street prostitution has risen again. There are differences among the three main cities in Sweden, as there are among the three main cities in Scotland.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I thank Margo MacDonald for that information, although whether I believe it to be correct remains to be seen. As far as I can see, I have up-to-date figures.

Only between 200 and 400 trafficked women were in Sweden after the buying of sex was criminalised, whereas Finland had between 15,000 and 17,000 trafficked women. That speaks for itself. It shows what happens when prostitution is targeted. After all, what are these poor women trafficked for, if not for prostitution? They are not trafficked to wash dishes or sweep the streets. They are trafficked for prostitution and the extreme forms of violence that go along with it. We have to address the problem and protect those women. I think that Cathy Peattie might say something about that if she can stay to speak in the debate.

Exhaustive studies done throughout the world show that 92 per cent of sex workers would leave prostitution if they could. That figure refers not just to trafficked sex workers, but to other people who are involved in prostitution. We have to educate men about the fact that prostitution does not exist because women want it to be there. It is an evil trade that exists because men want these types of services. I have evidence—Margo MacDonald might be able to agree with this point—that prostitutes on the streets and in saunas say that, years ago, they were asked for simple sex but that they are now asked to perform the most horrendous acts simply because trafficked women are being brought into this country. Men are using the services of trafficked women and when they go to pay for a prostitute they are asking for the same sort of services. Years ago, they would not have asked for them. There is a clear correlation between prostitution and trafficking. I have no doubt about that.

I congratulate Glasgow City Council on the work that it is doing. I think that Trish Godman mentioned that. The council is doing a fantastic job and other councils should learn from it.

Like Trish Godman, I ask the minister to ask the Westminster Government to sign up to the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. It says that we cannot sign up to the convention because it will affect the immigration laws, but the immigration laws are an absolute mess, as John Reid said. While he is considering those laws, we should sign up to the convention and sort out trafficking once and for all. It is an evil, vile trade in which women are used as a commodity and treated worse than animals. We have to put a stop to it, not just in this country but further afield, and one way we can do that is by signing up to the treaty.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 5:17 pm, 25th May 2006

I congratulate Trish Godman on securing this debate.

The trafficking of women into forced prostitution is part of the continuum of male violence against women. It is a widespread manifestation of gender discrimination, inequality and patriarchy. It is part of a multibillion pound global industry that encompasses exploitative commerce, which includes adult and child pornography, prostitution, massage parlours, lap dancing, live sex shows, mail-order brides and sex tourism. Those are basically all violence against women. I would be grateful if, tonight, the minister would update us on the progress of the Scottish Executive's work on developing a strategic approach to all forms of violence against women and children. I think that the waters can sometimes get a wee bit muddied.

The international trafficking of women as sex slaves is clearly a big business. It is tolerated because, like prostitution and pornography, people have been desensitized to it and it has been normalised. We need to change that. Sex trafficking is the third largest underground economy in the world. More than 2 million women and children are sold, conned or forced into sexual slavery every year because there is a demand for those sex slaves. Millions of men think that it is acceptable to exchange money for access to sex—to buy the bodies of women and children and violate and abuse them, or, as Trish Godman said, to rape them. A report today states that £6.6 million is spent on prostitution in Glasgow every year.

The traffickers treat their victims as commodities to be traded for the highest profit. They ought to be punished severely, as the motion says, but the consumers must also be dealt with, not only through severe punishment but through education about the harm that they promulgate.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Does the member agree that we should stop talking about sex workers and the sex industry because those terms legitimise what is happening to women?

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

Yes. We should stop talking about sex workers. We should talk about women who are used. They do not work as prostitutes. They are used as prostitutes.

Sex with trafficked women is not consensual sex by any stretch of the imagination: it is slavery, torture, abuse and rape and must be treated as such. Sex trafficking is not happening only on someone else's doorstep, it is happening here in Scotland in the 21st century. Young women are lured into the nightmare world of abuse and torture by a range of means and for a variety of reasons. Adverts that promise them jobs, money and opportunities abroad can be enough to entice them into the trap that is laid by the traffickers because their economic situation or that of their family is one of extreme hardship. They may be shown fake visas and false employment contracts and may even be persuaded into a marriage. In the book "Not For sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography", Leslie R Wolfe, a leader in the fight against trafficking in the US, paints a picture of how any of us could be caught in a nightmare web spun by traffickers. She says:

"Imagine that you have left home for a new country and new economic opportunity. You have been brought to this new country by a man or men that you fear or even trust, to work and earn money for your family—only to find yourself imprisoned in a brothel or a sweat shop. Imagine your terror: you cannot speak the language; you fear the local police, who may be complicit in the trafficking; and you legitimately fear arrest, imprisonment and deportation to your home country, where you will likely be ostracised because of the sexual nature of your exploitation."

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member agree that she drew a distinction in the quotation that she read out, when she indicated that a woman could be trafficked into prostitution in a brothel or into a sweat shop as a machinist? The issue is the trafficking of human beings.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The point that Margo MacDonald makes tends to muddy the waters. If she reads books such as the one that I have cited and other research that has been done, she will find that women who are trafficked into sex shops—that was a slip of the tongue; I meant to say sweat shops—are probably being sexually abused. The issue is being muddied to some extent. I have no doubt that the women in question are sex slaves.

Currently, they do not have many rights in the UK and are treated as illegal immigrants who can be detained and deported. I join Trish Godman in her plea for the Government to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, to ensure that women are sympathetically dealt with as victims and not as perpetrators. I do not accept that non-genuine claimants may benefit and that that is not acceptable. Without the convention and its associated action, genuine victims are being denied protection, which is unacceptable. In a paper entitled "Hope Betrayed", the POPPY project points out that, in the period between March 2003 and August 2005, 32 women claimed asylum and one was granted it. In 80 per cent of cases, asylum was granted on appeal. I ask the minister to comment in his summing-up on the possibility of setting up a POPPY project for Scotland.

The normalisation of buying and selling sex through prostitution, pornography, lap dancing, massage parlours and so on must be challenged in our society, because it is not normal. It is abuse and violence, with punters seemingly able to buy out a woman's right to say no. That is completely unacceptable. Prostitution and sex trafficking are human rights abuses, whether they are local or global. I say to Margo MacDonald that the demand for them is one and the same thing. Both are gender-based domination and provide huge financial rewards for the predators, ensuring continued demand and supply.

The answer to the abuse must be to address demand, which is its root cause. Contrary to some myths, women do not have a real choice, but the punters do. Men who use prostitutes must be made accountable through arrest and prosecution and thereby persuaded to choose differently, because they have a choice. We should also educate society as a whole and provide better support and services to victims. I would have liked to address the serious health problems of victims, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, but I do not have time to do that.

In a world where increasingly capitalism is king, it is incumbent on our Government to send a clear message, through legislation and action, that human beings are not for sale.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative 5:23 pm, 25th May 2006

I thank Trish Godman and congratulate her on raising this vital issue. Slavery has concerned Conservative politicians since our party abolished the slave trade at the beginning of the 19 th century. It troubles me that now, in the 21 st century, slavery still exists in Britain, through a comprehensive network of people trafficking. It is undoubtedly a heinous blight not only on the human condition but on our society as a whole.

The imprisonment and exploitation of women in a society they do not recognise, in a culture that is alien to them and that has a language they barely understand, if at all, can only draw the greatest concern from all parts of the chamber. They are among the most vulnerable people in our society and they need our protection. It is not just that the illegal and immoral crime of people trafficking blights our streets; it often leads to associated crimes, such as drug offences, theft and racketeering.

We acknowledge that the Government has taken steps to act. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, subsequently replaced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004, have helped to tighten up the law, criminalising more effectively those involved in people trafficking.

Similarly, operation pentameter has been a step forward in combating the crime: it has allowed Scotland's police forces to work effectively with their counterparts throughout the United Kingdom, often using valuable intelligence that is passed on to them. Although we applaud such measures, it concerns us that as soon as one group of women is removed, another appears to replace it.

Despite such commitment, Her Majesty's Government still refuses to sign up to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which was produced more than a year ago. The Government claims simply that it is still considering whether to sign. The convention would provide protection for any victims who have suffered at the hands of traffickers and guarantee 30 days' support, recovery and safe housing. The matter was raised in the House of Lords last July by the Conservative peer Baroness Rawlings, but it has still not been addressed.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member agree that there is not enough protection for people who give evidence against professional gangs that organise human trafficking, and that we need to give victims more than 30 days' respite?

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative

That is up for debate. At least the convention guarantees 30 days' respite. It is at least something. I am sure the matter can be considered at a later date.

Why a Government should focus so much attention on people trafficking without providing the necessary support network for the victims has yet to be explained.

In a speech in January, the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, highlighted people trafficking and described his approach to the matter. He said that it is the responsibility of developed countries to act with the developing world to eradicate the poverty that causes so many people to sell themselves or their children into a life of slavery. That is the modern, compassionate Conservative approach to which we must now turn.

The suffering that is caused by the people trafficking networks in the UK is incomprehensible. We very much support any measures that will break the criminals' grip on their victims and their communities. I hope that recent advances will continue to improve the situation.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP 5:27 pm, 25th May 2006

Like other members, I welcome today's incredibly important—and extremely worrying—debate.

I speak from my experience of working with asylum seekers and women who have been victims of traffickers. When I spoke about the subject in Parliament on international women's day, I mentioned Olga, who was brought into the UK by a trafficker who she believed was her boyfriend. He was in fact a lawyer in Russia who duped her and another group of women. She managed to flee from him, but was absolutely terrified to name him unless she was given leave to remain in the country. Naming him and being returned was the worst thing that could happen to her. Because she did not name him, she was not believed and, sadly, was hastily deported.

In her early 20s, Olga was abused by the scum who trafficked her as well as by the system here in Scotland. She was detained and suffered the fear and indignity of being held at Dungavel. She was cuffed, forced on to an aeroplane and returned to Russia. Penniless and unable to return to her family because the man who tricked and trafficked her would easily find and punish her, she is now somewhere in Russia avoiding that very man and terrified that her only option is to enter prostitution, which would force her back into the cycle all over again—at the age of 24. Her options are few to non-existent and her fears are real. I have not heard from her in a while, which makes me scared about her fate.

As Elaine Smith and others have said, the problem is men's exploitation and brutal treatment of women. It is almost impossible for me to separate trafficked women from prostitutes, even though one group is possibly acceptable whereas the other is a greater worry. This is all about what men do, what poverty forces on women and the chances and choices that women do or do not have. They are all vulnerable women.

Members might know that I spent some time in police cells recently, in relation to protests at Faslane. I was detained in the police cells at Glasgow district court with seven women who were being used as prostitutes. Elaine Smith rightly referred to this: I heard of the ravages of their lives and about the abuse that they have suffered and continue to suffer. They talked and shared their experiences openly because they believe that they must tell everything about themselves and that they do not have any rights at all. There were certainly no women like that in the movie "Pretty Woman". They had suffered great abuse and there were no diamond necklaces for them.

I spoke to a women this week who came here as an asylum seeker but who, because of poverty, has ended up as a prostitute in Glasgow. She has a criminal record because of that. I have spoken to women from the Philippines who were legitimately brought in by immigration advisers to work in saunas in Edinburgh. I say to the minister—Elaine Smith touched on this—that from Pilton to the Philippines and from Glasgow to Moscow, demand for prostitution is the problem. We must challenge that demand throughout society and challenge the power balance. We must legislate against men, and care for women. We must begin to ensure safety, choice, empowerment and opportunity for all women.

I thank Trish Godman for bringing this issue to the chamber and giving us a chance to share our experiences and, I hope, start to change things for all those women.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 5:31 pm, 25th May 2006

Like other members, I thank Trish Godman for lodging the motion and congratulate her. I offer apologies on behalf of Shiona Baird. As members may know, she recently suffered a family bereavement. If she were here I am sure she would want to contribute to the debate and extend her thanks, too, to Trish Godman for lodging the motion. Like Trish Godman, I pay tribute to the work that has been done by many newspapers, including The Sunday Herald , to investigate the trafficking issue and to expose some of the vile detail.

Trish Godman mentioned that it is estimated that 5,000 women and girls are trafficked into the UK every year. In 2000, the Home Office estimated that there were around 1,400 such women. I do not know to what extent that dramatic increase is due to an increase in the trade in trafficked women or to improvements in surveillance, detection and intelligence. It may be a bit of both, but the fear must be that either figure represents an underestimate.

The issue comes down to the difference between the views of Sandra White and Margo MacDonald. We can recognise that there is a deep connection between trafficking and the most exploitative end of the sex industry—I do not think that anybody denies that—but the trafficking problem is wider than that. As Elaine Smith recognised, people are trafficked for domestic and agricultural labour, casual manufacturing jobs and so on.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Indeed. Many of those people are also subject to intimidation, violence—including sexual violence—and exploitation.

We should recognise that even if we were able to delete demand for commercial sex from the equation, we would still have an unacceptable, highly complex and difficult problem of trafficking, and that many of the victims of trafficking would be subject to violence, including sexual violence.

I agree with Margo MacDonald that we should argue to go beyond the Council of Europe convention. I do not accept as valid the use of the illegal immigration argument. Frankly, if a few people exploit a potential loophole, as some might see it, and gain permission to stay here, I can accept that. I would not care if some people exploited that and were able to stay here when they did not deserve to, so long as we could ensure that the people who are subject to the vicious crime of trafficking can stay and are not in fear of deportation.

The fear of deportation, even for people who have a hope of escaping their abusers, who are often referred to as masters—a word that sticks in the throat—is such that people are deterred from accessing services and support. People are afraid that they or their families will become victims of further trafficking and violence if they return home.

I agree with Margo MacDonald that we should go far beyond the terms of the convention on action against trafficking in human beings, but I hope that all members agree that it is astonishing and unacceptable that the UK Government refuses even to sign up to the convention and allow people the bare minimum 30-day recovery and reflection period and a few basic support, health care and legal services. I hope that the minister will tell us what discussions he has had with UK ministers on the matter. If he has had no such discussions, I hope that he will do so urgently.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 5:36 pm, 25th May 2006

I congratulate Trish Godman on securing a debate on the important issue of trafficking for forced prostitution.

Human trafficking is a despicable form of modern slavery and no one should be in any doubt about the fact that the Executive views that form of exploitation as wholly unacceptable—as it does all other forms of sexual exploitation of women, which Elaine Smith, in particular, emphasised. We are determined to challenge the whole spectrum of violence against women, which is the wider context of the debate, although I will focus on trafficking.

Victims of trafficking, who are among the most marginalised groups in society, experience the most horrendous emotional, physical, mental and sexual abuse. I am glad to have an opportunity to reaffirm our view that trafficking is intolerable and that those who perpetrate it should be dealt with severely.

We have already taken action on trafficking. With the support of the Parliament, we introduced a tough new offence that is aimed at sex traffickers. Section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 provides that it is an offence for a person to be involved in the trafficking into or out of the UK of a person or people for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The maximum sentence is 14 years, which reflects the seriousness of such offences.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

Will the minister comment on the idea that prostitution within the UK is domestic trafficking, which has been highlighted in papers that I have read?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

We regard prostitution as unacceptable and part of the spectrum of violence against women. I do not have time to go into detail about our policy proposals and action on prostitution.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I must make progress.

The Crown Office rightly regards trafficking cases as a priority and has provided guidance to prosecutors on making full use of the new anti-trafficking legislation.

I am pleased that, as a result of operation pentameter, which is a police-led, UK-wide multi-agency campaign to combat trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, the first trafficking charges in Scotland have been brought under the 2003 act. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 provides another weapon in the armoury, by enabling enforcement agencies to seize the ill-gotten gains of people who profit from trafficking.

It is important not only to deal effectively with the perpetrators of such despicable crimes but to protect and support the people on whom they prey. As a result of operation pentameter, police have rescued four trafficked women. It is essential that they and others like them receive appropriate care.

Elaine Smith asked whether an initiative such as the POPPY project could be set up in Scotland. There is a similar project: as part of our violence against women fund, the Executive is continuing to provide support to a pilot project in Glasgow that aims to determine the need for support for trafficked women. The pilot was set up in 2004 and provides advice and support to women who have been trafficked into Glasgow. It also raises awareness about the nature of trafficking and its impact on women. The project has developed links with other partners in Glasgow, such as the police, social work services and NHS Greater Glasgow, to provide safety, accommodation, health care, legal advice and psychological support. The project has negotiated with Strathclyde police a method of third-party reporting, which enables front-line workers to pass on anonymous information to the police, to assist them in criminal investigations.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I had better take guidance from the Presiding Officer on how long I have left to speak.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You have some time in hand and I would be happy to extend your time.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I simply want to ask a question. If the minister cannot answer it, his colleague the Minister for Justice might be able to. How many successful prosecutions have been made under section 22 of the 2003 act, which the Minister for Communities mentioned? That is an important fact to determine.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I certainly cannot answer that question; the member is right to say that the justice ministers take the policy lead on the matter, although I have a strong interest in it as the Minister for Communities.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I appreciate that the minister may deal with this later, but I press him to say something about whether services must be made available wherever they are needed. If the UK Government signed up to the convention, that would be the case; it is not the case at the moment.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I will deal with the convention in a moment. I will respond at the appropriate point in my speech.

I did not give way in a very good place—I was talking about the successful Strathclyde police pilot project. The information that that project has provided shows the number of women who have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation—in Glasgow alone—from Lithuania, Albania, China, Thailand, Sudan, Kenya and Hungary. That this should happen in Scotland today is truly shocking and horrendous.

It is vital to continue to monitor the findings from the project and to ensure that we develop our understanding of the reality of trafficking for women and of their support needs. We should not forget that that vile trade could not exist if there was no demand. It is important to send a clear message to men who pay for sex that they are fuelling a horrendous trade and are, as Trish Godman made clear, guilty of rape.

We are determined to challenge the demand for all forms of commercial sexual exploitation—and for all forms of sexual exploitation more generally—and to work in partnership to combat them.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I apologise that my intervention is another about a justice matter. Children and young people can give anonymous testimony and we have set up courts specially to enable that. Could women who have been trafficked give anonymous testimony? The minister will find that lack of anonymity is why no successful prosecutions have been made.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 covers some of that, but I will draw the matter to the justice ministers' attention, if more needs to be done.

By its nature, trafficking is an international crime that operates across borders and often involves organised crime networks, so partnership working and the sharing of information and intelligence with national and international law enforcement agencies are essential to identifying what is happening and to dealing effectively with those who are involved. That is why we undertook a joint consultation, which closed recently, with the Home Office on proposals for a UK action plan to tackle human trafficking. The plan contains proposals on preventing trafficking at source, on improving law enforcement and on supporting and assisting victims. The convention was raised in the consultation. It is a reserved matter, but I share Trish Godman's views and concerns about it.

The Glasgow interagency trafficking working group broadly welcomed the action plan, but said in its response to the consultation paper:

"An automatic reflection period and the possibility of a short term residence period affording women rights to assistance without the absolute necessity of assisting the police might mean that frontline workers could offer women reassurance about approaching the authorities for help leading to more prosecutions but more importantly providing women with a route out and the protection that they need."

I will discuss the issue with the justice ministers, who take the policy lead. We will consider carefully the views that have been expressed today and by respondents to the consultation exercise and we will feed our thoughts back to Home Office ministers.

I emphasise that the Executive is committed to tackling all forms of violence against women. The debate rightly highlights one particularly abhorrent aspect of such violence and we will continue to work to bring the perpetrators of that violence to book as well as to support those who suffer at their hands.

I will finish by quoting the Glasgow interagency trafficking working group's submission:

"As a destination country, primarily for trafficked women, we have created the demand for this heinous form of exploitation and violence against women. We believe that we have a duty to afford any woman who is fortunate enough to come to the attention of the authorities all of the protection and assistance the state can muster. Focussing on demand reduction, victim protection and prosecutions will be vital to combat this form of 21st century slavery."

Meeting closed at 17:44.