Independent Forensic Social Work Consultant & Criminologist
Honorary Research Fellow, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull
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).
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.
- 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.”
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.