The problem of modern slavery is of global political concern. Policy development has nevertheless raced ahead of research on the subject, of which there is a genuine lack. International bodies and governments have tried – not always successfully – to produce estimates of the scale of the problem, and there are now a handful of studies documenting the plight of those trafficked. However, there are hardly any studies that have been undertaken with those regarded as the perpetrators of modern slavery offences. The aim of this project is to produce an understanding of the problem of modern slavery informed by first hand interviews with those convicted for these offences. It will use arrest and conviction data to profile perpetrators together with in-depth interviews with those convicted under the UK 2015 Modern Slavery Act to explore how and why some people traffick others, what circumstances and social networks have contributed to their offending, as well as what has impeded it.

The project will:

  1. Map out the contours of modern slavery as recorded by the police over the three years since the inception of the Modern Slavery Act.
  2. Elicit offenders’ own accounts of their role in the crimes for which they were convicted – whether ‘enablers’, ‘recruiters’, or ‘exploiters’ – how they justified this to themselves, what specifically was said to those they trafficked, to what extent they understood the laws they were breaking and any attempts they have made to leave the businesses of modern slavery behind. These accounts will be anonymised and archived for use by other researchers.
  3. Develop an understanding of how offenders become involved in modern slavery, including their first engagements with the trade, previous involvements in other types of crime, or migration and its facilitation, prostitution or pornography, drugs and drug trafficking and/or capacity for violence. It will further extrapolate the relations perpetrators have with those who worked alongside, beneath and above them in such activities, including how kinship, romance and intimacy, and/or financial indebtedness impacted on their engagements with trafficking and/or migration journeys and how they knew their victims. The roles played by people in positions of authority – whether teachers, family members, those involved in criminal enterprises or officials – will be examined.
  4. Contribute new models of modern slavery from which practice and policy interventions can be derived. The research will help contribute to the development of a new framework for dealing with offenders convicted of modern slavery offences. It will also enable those working with victims to develop approaches to safeguarding that are informed by empirical research on how offenders operate, alone, collectively and through the exploitation of vulnerable people who are highly dependent on each other and/or illicit activity for their subsistence.