British Nationals – The Hidden Victims of Modern Slavery

Dr Craig Barlow

Independent Forensic Social Work Consultant & Criminologist

Honorary Research Fellow, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

cbarlow@craigbarlow.co.uk

September saw the completion, publication and launch of an important scoping study addressing the experiences of British victims of modern slavery and their pathways to safety and recovery.  The research was led by Dr Carole Murphy at The Bakhita Centre, St Mary’s University, Twickenham in partnership with Louise Gleich at Justice and Care. Dr Alicia Heys, modern slavery lecturer at the Wilberforce Institute, and Dr Craig Barlow, Independent Forensic Social Work Consultant & Criminologist and Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute, were co-investigators on the twelve month project. The project was commissioned by the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre (MSPEC).

The Project

Currently, British nationals represent the highest number of referrals from one nationality into the National Referral Mechanism [NRM] with year-on-year increases rising from 90 in 2013 to 3,952 in 2021. The percentage of referrals that are British nationals has also risen each year from 2016 until 2020. In 2021, although the actual number had risen again, the percentage had dropped slightly: last year, British nationals accounted for nearly a third of all potential victims (31%). The largest proportion of these referrals in 2021 was for criminal exploitation involving children, representing 55% of all referrals of British nationals, with the majority exploited in criminal activities such as ‘county lines’.

Despite this rise no comprehensive study has been conducted on their specific vulnerabilities or to identify their specific recovery needs. That which exists has been largely focused on criminal exploitation and the ‘county lines’ phenomenon or sexual exploitation. The project sought to begin to fill this gap.

Research Objectives

  • Understand the experiences of British nationals who have been trafficked
  • Identify gaps in support needs provided for British survivors
  • Compare with findings from other groups
  • Develop coherent responses to the specific needs of British Nationals
  • Provide an evidence base for improved grass-roots delivery of support for British survivors
  • Provide an evidence base to influence policy on the support needs of British survivors

The project resulted in a series of publications, conferences and events culminating in the final report, launched at the House of Lords, and hosted by Lord McColl, on September 6, 2022.

Publications and Conference Papers

The literature review for this project was adapted for a journal article  and published  at the beginning of September:  A Review of Modern Slavery in Britain: Understanding the Unique Experience of British Victims and Why it Matters – Alicia Heys, Craig Barlow, Carole Murphy, Amy McKee, 2022 (sagepub.com)

As part of the research, Craig undertook a critical review of the current criminal and civil legislation and justice system in the UK and presented some of the findings of this review in a paper at the British Society of Criminology’s annual conference hosted by Surrey University on June 29. His paper ‘British Victims of Modern Slavery: Journeys into Criminal Exploitation and Alternative Interventions’ critiqued the current legal and policy response to the criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, building on his doctoral research and recent work published with Alicia Keys, Simon Green and Beth Derby.

We followed this up with two conference papers in The Netherlands, at the fifth global meeting of the Slavery Past, Present & Future Conference at Webster University, Leiden. We were joined by Professor Simon Green who presented a paper with Craig focusing on child trafficking and criminal exploitation while Alicia and Carole presented early findings from the British Nationals project.

The Final Report

Identifying Pathways to Support British Victims of Modern Slavery towards Safety and Recovery: A Scoping Study  surveyed and interviewed over 50 professionals working with people affected by modern slavery, as well as interviewing seven survivors, to paint a complex picture of systemic barriers creating social and economic vulnerabilities in relation to modern slavery. The lack of awareness amongst services to intervene early and protect British nationals from exploitation was a key feature.

Carole Murphy said, “Our research shows that there’s a huge gap in knowledge about the potential for British nationals to be exploited in modern slavery. This lack of knowledge and understanding results in them not being offered the same support as other people…[British nationals] are commonly failed by the authorities, facing what one respondent in this study referred to as ‘a cycle of closed doors’.

“What sets British citizens affected by modern slavery apart from other potential victims is that they have regularly come into contact with social services, schools and education institutions, mental and physical health professionals even before their exploitation starts. Despite this, agencies that are designed to support them regularly miss opportunities to protect them from being exploited.”

Moving Forward

The report recommends implementing a public health approach to modern slavery to prioritise prevention and early identification of British nationals, including reviewing legislative protections for survivors. At regional and local levels, the report proposes implementing community awareness and resilience programmes and developing multi-agency modern slavery partnerships.

It also advises providing training to frontline professionals likely to encounter potential victims of modern slavery, specifically addressing the experience of modern slavery for British nationals.

Furthermore, it recommends integrating the approach to supporting people who have experienced modern slavery, including improved communication between services provided through the NRM and local authorities, as well as the Crown Prosecution Service in cases of criminal exploitation.

We don’t know enough to effectively protect those who experience criminal exploitation

Dr Alicia Kidd

Lecturer in Modern Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

A.Kidd@hull.ac.uk

In this blog, produced for the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre [PEC], Dr Kidd looks at the defence for those who face criminal liability as a result of modern slavery under Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

What do we know about how we protect those who experience criminal exploitation from further harm? People forced into criminal exploitation by their traffickers should be protected from the further harm of being charged for crimes they had no choice but to commit. The UK Modern Slavery Act offers protection for such cases, however, we don’t know if it’s doing its job effectively.

Criminal exploitation is a growing problem. In the UK in 2021, 6,100 people were identified as potential victims of criminal exploitation, 4,155 of whom had experienced only this form of exploitation (figures are collated from the data tables accessible via the End of Year Summary). This accounts for 48% of all potential cases of modern slavery identified in that year.

People who experience criminal exploitation inhabit an unusual position of being both a victim of modern slavery and a perpetrator of the crimes they were made to commit. This means that there can be confusion amongst professionals around how to best respond to such situations.

Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act offers a statutory defence for those who face criminal liability for a criminal act that they committed as a consequence of their modern slavery or human trafficking experience. It was designed to reassure people that they could give evidence without fear of being convicted for offences they had committed as part of their exploitation.

For people aged 18 or over, the Act states that a person is not guilty of an offence if they were compelled to commit it, if that compulsion is attributable to their exploitative situation, and if a reasonable person in the same situation with relevant characteristics would have no realistic alternative to committing it. Children are not guilty if the criminal act was a direct consequence of their exploitation and a reasonable person in the same situation with relevant characteristics would have also committed the act.

However, even seven years after the implementation of Section 45 with the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, it is difficult to gather an accurate picture of how the defence is understood and used in practice. The Modern Slavery PEC and the Wilberforce Institute are publishing a review of how this defence has been used so far

Our review has shown that, to date, there is very limited information available on the use of Section 45. There have been two independent reviews of the Modern Slavery Act which make reference to Section 45, and one report from the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner which was based on a call for evidence about Section 45 specifically. However, there is a lack of information regarding the commissioning process and methodologies of these reports.

Further, no quantitative data is collected on the use of Section 45, academic involvement in the reviews has been limited, and no one with lived experience was consulted for the reviews. These factors combined mean that producing accurate insights and robust generalisations about how Section 45 is used is impossible. We can’t currently generate a true picture of who is using the defence, what crimes they are using it for, or identify and rectify any barriers to success.

There is also a lack of legal clarity regarding how closely the offence should be connected to the modern slavery experience for the defence to be justified, with no clear definition offered within the Modern Slavery Act. Case law continues to develop and challenge how the defence should be implemented in practice. However, without adequate and consistent training for professionals, those who experience criminal exploitation could have truly differing experiences of using the defence, based entirely on the levels of knowledge that the lawyers and judges associated with their cases have on modern slavery and Section 45.

If used suitably, the statutory defence holds real potential to be able to support victims of modern slavery without punishing them for crimes they had no choice but to commit. However, much remains to be done to make sure that becomes a reality.

Based on available evidence, in order to improve both the use and understanding of Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act, reviews of the legislation should offer clarity regarding the commissioning process and methodologies used, so that the reviews can accurately be recreated for future comparisons. They should also incorporate insights from academics working in relevant fields, and always seek the input of people with lived experience.

We need more data to be able to make informed decisions about improving Section 45. As a priority, the Government needs to collect quantitative data on the use and outcomes of the defence in order to understand the types of cases in which it is used, barriers to success, and how it might be vulnerable to misuse.

Finally, it’s clear that adequate training for police, lawyers and the judiciary is fundamental if Section 45 is to be used in the way it was intended: to serve the best interests of victims of modern slavery. This training should include insights into potential bias based on notions of the ‘ideal’ victim, so that people who were forced to commit crimes as a result of slavery or trafficking can be fully protected from further harm.