Commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking

Commercial sexual exploitation

There is no fixed or legal definition of commercial sexual exploitation. There has been limited public debate on what makes the difference between something being sexually explicit and sexually exploitative. The Women’s Support Project defines sexual exploitation as a practice by which a person achieves sexual gratification, financial gain or advancement through the abuse or exploitation of a person’s sexuality by abrogating that person’s human right to dignity, equality, autonomy, and physical and mental wellbeing; i.e. trafficking, prostitution, prostitution tourism, mail-order-bride trade, pornography, stripping, battering, incest, rape and sexual harassment. Sexual exploitation includes offering drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money in exchange for sex or sexual acts (Women’s Support Project). The Scottish Government definition of commercial sexual exploitation notes that it is harmful “irrespective of whether individual women claim success or empowerment from the activity”.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking and exploitation are complex and hidden crimes, as well as abuses of human rights and dignity.  They are not only international issues, nor are they confined to larger towns and cities, but can and do affect communities all over Scotland.  People can be exploited for a number of purposes – sex, labour, crime (e.g. benefit fraud and forced drugs cultivation), domestic servitude, sham marriages and organ trafficking. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 created two separate offences of human trafficking and slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour (COSLA Migration Scotland).

There are common myths about human trafficking and exploitation, for example in Scotland there is no need for movement or travel to have occurred for human trafficking or exploitation to have taken place. You can find out more on COSLA’s Migration Scotland website.

Further information and support

Routes Out
Phone: 0141 276 0737


Routes Out is a Glasgow based service that offers advice, information and support if you are looking to increase your safety, look at alternatives to selling sex or looking for support around a range of personal or social issues including health, debt, rights and accommodation.

TARA (Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance)
Phone (24 hours): 0141 276 7724

TARA is a Glasgow based support service for women over the age of 18 who may have been trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Staff can support someone to report to the police or can pass on anonymised information.

Sandyford G3 Priority Clinic
Appointments phone: 0141 211 8610

The G3 Priority Clinic in Glasgow is a confidential and discreet sexual health service for women and men involved in the commercial sex industry (such as selling sex online, in flats or escorting, lap dancing, stripping on camera).

Police Scotland
Emergency: 999
Non-emergency: 101

Police Scotland provide information on potential signs of human trafficking and how to report trafficking concerns.

Migrant Help
Phone: 0141 884 7900 (Monday-Friday 9am-5pm) or 0141 212 8553 (out of hours)Information via email here

A Scottish service for confidential help and advice if you, or someone you know has been trafficked, is over 18 and is not a woman involved in commercial sexual exploitation.

Modern Slavery Helpline
Phone (24 hours): 08000 121 700

The UK Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre provides victims, the public, statutory agencies and businesses access to information and support.

Scottish Government Human Trafficking Information

This webpage provides an overview of human trafficking with links to other information including:

  • Scottish trafficking and exploitation Strategy
  • Support for trafficking victims
  • Signs of human trafficking
  • Resources for awareness raising including some in different languages

UK Home Office - National Referral Mechanism

Information for workers on:

  • Definitions and indicators of trafficking
  • Referring cases to NRM
  • Access to support
  • Completing NRM form
  • Consent