This is a report and a Research Summary from the research project Evaluating the provision of distributed technology to adults with lived experience of modern slavery, conducted by the University of Liverpool in partnership with International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA). The project was funded through an open call for proposals by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), which in turn is funded and supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The UK Government has a statutory obligation to identify and support survivors of modern slavery in order to assist with recovery from past experiences of exploitation. Many organisations provide support to adults with lived experience of modern slavery both within and outside of the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Their support includes many aspects that are crucial to survivors’ process of recovery and reintegration.
However, while the delivery of and survivors’ access to these services often rely on the use of digital technologies, there is no specific requirement for the provision of these technologies within current regulations and processes. What is more, little is known in the current research about such provision and the challenges that both organisations and survivors face.
This research addresses the question of how adults with lived experience of modern slavery use and access support services through digital technologies. This question is important if we are to better support survivors within and outside of the NRM, and in the wider context of tackling issues of digital inequalities. As in the case of other marginalised groups, survivors of modern slavery are likely to experience issues of limited access and skills to use digital technologies, which can hinder their recovery.
- It is becoming increasingly important for people with experience of modern slavery to have access to technology to use services aimed to support recovery from exploitation and reintegration into society.
- Digital access, via devices such as smartphones and laptops as well as data packages, is necessary for survivors not only to access support services but, equally importantly, to undertake essential tasks such as paying bills or shopping, engaging with groups and counselling, connecting with friends and family, and pursuing professional opportunities.
- Using digital technology is vital for helping survivors to find communities and gain their independence.
- Whilst some survivors enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) owning their own devices, provision of digital devices to survivors in receipt of NRM support is inconsistent, dependent on funding or donations, insufficiently monitored and provision is often temporary.
- Survivors of modern slavery need both internet safety and digital skills training. This can reduce the potential risks of re-trafficking that can arise from using smartphones and other devices. Safety and skills training supports survivors’ access to and use of services delivered online. Current training provision is often ad-hoc, varies across providers, and lacks a balance between individualised, tailor-made support and formal training.
- While organisations value the efficiency inherent in using digital technologies to manage information and referrals, the survivors involved in this study were largely unaware of the NRM itself, despite receiving NRM support, illustrating a lack of informed consent.
For the UK Government
- Provide increased and more consistent funding for digital support. More opportunities are needed for funding the work and initiatives of civil society organisations supporting survivors, in particular to support their digital access and skills. We recommend that the UK Government allocates increased and more permanent funding to support the provision of digital technology and data to survivors, as well as supporting opportunities for digital training.
- Implement a minimum digital requirement for survivors as part of the NRM support package and provide guidance to organisations providing support. This would consist of at least one entry level smartphone, entry level laptop, and a data package. Guidance for digital training for survivors should be produced and shared with all organisations supporting survivors, to make sure that survivors have both digital access and the relevant skills needed to use devices safely, to reduce the risk of online harms such as scams and re-trafficking.
- Explore the creation of an online support portal. This could be helpful for organisations to better manage referrals and information, as well as for survivors to monitor their own progress and be more actively involved throughout the NRM process.
- This should be highly secure and safe to use and should include links to vetted external support services such as mental health websites, as well as features that enable survivors to refer themselves to such services. The portal could also provide survivors with access to their own details and the ability to monitor their own progress once they enter the NRM.
- Encourage organisations to provide information in multiple languages to alleviate language barriers experienced by survivors, which are among the key predictors of digital exclusion.
For support organisations
- To aid survivors’ reintegration into society, organisations should explore the use of a centralised online resources portal (see also above recommendation 3 for UK government).
- Organisations should be committed to taking a balanced approach to digital support and training. This would include providing access to both structured digital training as well as individualised digital support that is specifically tailored to the needs of survivors of modern slavery for living in the current digital society.
- Explore the creation and use of a centralised body supervising the delivery of digital training. Organisations should provide both formal and informal training (see above) in ways that are supervised by a specific body that may be established through the Modern Slavery Victim Care and Coordination Contract (MSVCC) and equivalents in the devolved administrations, whose responsibility would be to have oversight and ensure consistent provision of such training.