A Review of Modern Slavery in Britain: Understanding the Unique Experience of British Victims and Why it Matters

AuthorAlicia Heys,Craig Barlow,Carole Murphy,Amy McKee
Published date01 April 2022
Date01 April 2022
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
A Review of Modern
Slavery in Britain:
Understanding the
Unique Experience
of British Victims and
Why it Matters
Alicia Heys1, Craig Barlow1, Carole Murphy2
and Amy McKee2
This article offers an original contribution to the field of victimization studies
by investigating the current context of, and responses to, British nationals who
are victims of modern slavery in the UK (BVs). Through the examination of
National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify statistics, a current picture of
specific experiences of BVs in the UK is illustrated with reference to identifica-
tion and access to support. An exploration of the reasons for non-engagement
of BVs with services and the detrimental impact this may have on their recovery
highlights pertinent issues of mistrust, stigma and shame. Compounded by the
current criminal justice approach towards modern slavery, the effects on the
well-being of victims and survivors document the barriers to accessing services.
A lack of engagement with the complexity of modern slavery; a lack of knowl-
edge, training and expertise; and a lack of comprehensive guidance result in poor
outcomes for BVs. Overall, the findings of this article are important in recogniz-
ing that the needs of BVs are currently not adequately met. A comprehensive
investigation is required to examine the specific needs and experiences of BVs
so that responses can be improved to effectively and appropriately support them
into long-term and meaningful recovery.
Modern slavery, human trafficking, victim identification, victimology, victimization
Original Article
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
5(1) 54–70, 2022
2022 Rajiv Gandhi National
University of Law
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/25166069221117190
1 Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom.
2 Bakhita Centre, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, United Kingdom.
Corresponding author:
Alicia Heys, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull, 27 High St, Hull, HU1 1NE, United Kingdom.
E-mail: a.s.heys@hull.ac.uk
Heys et al. 55
Research on victims3 of modern slavery has increased substantially in recent
years. Much of this research tends to focus on specific forms of trafficking such
as labour, sexual or criminal exploitation; the impact of trafficking on mental and
physical health; the drivers of trafficking; or specific sites of trafficking, for
example, countries of origin of persons trafficked into the UK based on National
Referral Mechanism (NRM)4 statistics. Substantial focus to date has been on chal-
lenges for victims who are also seeking asylum in the UK and the lengthy wait for
a decision5. While these studies are important and highlight some significant
flaws in adequately supporting foreign nationals who have been identified as
victims of modern slavery in the UK, very few studies have focused on the experi-
ences of British victims of modern slavery (BV) and human trafficking6. An anal-
ysis of the Modern Slavery Strategy7, which preceded the introduction of the
Modern Slavery Act (MSA) is enlightening in this regard.
The UK Government’s Modern Slavery Strategy8 twice mentions British
nationals as potential victims of modern slavery. The Home Secretary at the time,
Theresa May, a strong advocate for the introduction of the MSA, acknowledges in
the foreword (p. 5) that British adults and children can be potential victims. In
fact, end-of-year statistics at the time of the strategy show that UK nationals were
the fifth highest number of referrals into the NRM, which represented a 173%
increase on the previous year9. Of these, 56 UK nationals were minors referred for
sexual exploitation, 50 females and 6 males, representing a 155% increase on the
previous year10.
3 While acknowledging the debates around the connotations of using the term ‘victim’, this term is
chosen in this article to reflect the wording of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
4 The NRM is the UK’s system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery or human
trafficking. A specified list of first responders is responsible for referring potential victims into the
5 C. Murphy, Surviving Trafficking, Seeking Asylum: Waiting, Status and the State, 41(5/6) 
627–642 (2021).
6 Although see Hestia, Underground Lives: Criminal Exploitation of Adult Victims (2019). Available
online: https://www.hestia.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=8ab229cc-75c6-4574-a47d-a8fafd-
The Trafficking of Women
and Children from Vietnam
7 Home Office, Interim Review of the National Referral Mechanism for Victims of Human Trafficking
(2014a). Available online https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/
ficking.pdf (Accessed 14 April 2022).
8 Home Office, Modern Slavery Strategy (2014b). Available online https://www.gov.uk/government/
publications/modern-slavery-strategy (Accessed 14 April 2022).
9 National Crime Agency, National Referral Mechanism Statistics: End of Year Summary 2013 (2014).
Available online: www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk/media/1130/2013-nrm-end-of-year-summary.
pdf (Accessed 22 April 2022); National Crime Agency, National Referral Mechanism Statistics—
End of Year Summary 2014 (2015). Available online: https://www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk/
media/1131/2014-nrm-end-of-year-summary.pdf (Accessed 27 April 2022).
10 National Crime Agency, National Referral Mechanism Statistics: End of Year Summary 2013
(2014). Available online: www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk/media/1130/2013-nrm-end-of-year-
summary.pdf (Accessed 22 April 2022).

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