Tough action against people smugglers and support for their victims is at the heart of a new bid to root out human trafficking and exploitation in communities across Scotland.

Falkirk West MSP and Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has announced the Scottish Government’s Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy, which will help train professionals to identify victims and perpetrators while providing new powers to the police and Crown Office to disrupt trafficking activity.

Raising public awareness of the often hidden crime is another crucial part of the plan.

Mr Matheson said: “Developing the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy has included listening to victims themselves, who have provided a unique insight into the physical and psychological damage caused by trafficking. We have emphasised the need to let people know that there is support available for victims, wherever they are recovered in Scotland.

“Following the passing of legislation in 2015 to create an offence of human trafficking with a possible life sentence attached, I am pleased that Police Scotland and the Crown Office will be able to apply for new orders to disrupt traffickers’ activity.

“Better awareness among the public and training for professionals is key to this work, which will be taken forward with a range of partners, including the police, Crown Office and third sector. The trafficking and exploitation of adults and children is a shocking reality in Scotland today and we all have a role in exposing and eradicating these horrific crimes.”

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC welcomed the strategy. He added: “Scotland is a country that is hostile to this kind of exploitation. Prosecutors, working with Police Scotland and other law enforcement partners, will play their part in ensuring that victims of this crime are protected and have the support they need.”

Detective Superintendent Stuart Houston, of Police Scotland’s Human Trafficking Unit, said: “Trafficking is often a hidden crime, happening behind closed doors to people who may not realise that they are being exploited or that they are victims of traffickers.

“Communities are key in helping us identify people who may be the victims of trafficking and exploitation. We are asking people to be aware and to report to us or our partners if they suspect someone may be the victim of traffickers.”