MSPS have launched an inquiry into websites advertising prostitution amid concerns of an “epidemic” of sex trafficking in Scotland going on “behind closed doors”.

The inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation focuses on “pimping” websites, which it classes as “commercial sexual exploitation”.

The websites operate freely in Scotland but group co-convener Ruth Maguire said evidence indicates “hugely lucrative” sites are boosting organised crime.

She said: “We have launched this inquiry because behind closed doors there is an epidemic of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Scotland.

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“Organised crime groups are luring vulnerable women to Scotland, often with promises of a better life, only to ruthlessly subject them to rape and sexual assault by the small minority of men in this country who pay for sex.

“Crucially, there is growing international evidence that the organised crime groups and sex buyers who commit this abuse are getting a major helping hand from sexual exploitation advertising websites.

“These are commercial pimping websites where victims of sexual exploitation are advertised to sex buyers.

“Right now, hugely lucrative pimping websites operate openly in Scotland.

“The cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation will investigate the role that these websites are playing in fuelling sexual exploitation in Scotland and identify what action the Scottish Government must take.”

The cross-party group will hold a series of evidence hearings before publishing its findings and recommendations to the Scottish Government.

A similar group at the UK Parliament called for such sites to be banned in 2018 following an inquiry which concluded they were fuelling “industrialised” sex trafficking.

A year earlier, the US Government passed a law making it a federal criminal offence to own, manage or operate a website to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.