Scotland extends support period for victims to 90 days

Bronagh Andrew from the TARA Service on the Scottish Government’s decision to improve protection for victims of trafficking.

Graphic recorder of Consultation event for female victims of trafficking in Scotland
Graphic recorder of Consultation event for female victims of trafficking in Scotland

19 June 2017

Scotland’s journey to eliminate Human Trafficking and improve protection for survivors has just taken another step forward. Last week the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, announced that the relevant period of support for victims of trafficking in Scotland will be doubled to 90 days, demonstrating that Scotland is again leading the way in protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

It has been a long time coming given the complex needs of trafficking survivors, but the inclusion of their voices has provided the push that was needed to ensure a better political understanding of their recovery needs.

Credit must be given to the government’s Human Trafficking Team, whose open approach to consulting on their Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy and, importantly, a separate consultation on the length of immediate support provided for victims, saw them host five stakeholder events across Scotland, and three additional events for survivors: one for men, one for women and one for children.

The TARA Service and another organisation working with victims of trafficking, Wise Women, facilitated the event for women survivors.  A graphic recorder, interpreters and a crèche were funded by the Scottish Government to ensure it was as accessible and as inclusive as possible.

The support for extending the support beyond current 45 days was overwhelming. When asked about the support they received in Scotland one woman said: ‘Help is given when you first arrive, this needs to continue. We are still at risk.’ Others agreed: ‘The whole process needs to be ongoing’,
‘It is people who know very little about trafficking that are making the guidelines/policies’.

The previous 45-day support period has been repeatedly highlighted, by the Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group and other UK NGOs, as inadequate for most survivors. The complex and often lengthy process of recovering from the trauma of being trafficked can take months and even years. Whilst NGOs have consistently stated this, we believe that the lived experiences and direct voices of survivors heard in this consultation have significantly influenced the Scottish Government’s decision to extend the support provision to three months.

Women are delighted that their voices have been heard and are empowered by the knowledge that by sharing their experiences they have improved supports for those still to come into Scotland’s protection.  Survivors spoke and the Scottish Government listened. As a service we too have learned from the women and are heartened by their resilience.  We have now committed to regular service user events as our journey continues.

We share the Cabinet Secretary’s hopes when he stated, ‘I encourage Governments across the rest of the UK to follow our lead in this area’.  We too hope that the approach championed in Scotland can be replicated across the UK. Victims in England and Wales are still only entitled to 45 days support.

In fact, in contrast in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there is no legal duty to support and assist victims of human trafficking in England and Wales: the Modern Slavery Act is silent on victim support entitlements. Action must be taken to end this disparity; all survivors of modern slavery deserve better.