Loading content

Modern slavery survivors need better support in the digital age

Dr Jeanette D’Arcy, Dr Gianfranco Polizzi and Rebecca Harris from the University of Liverpool blog on key lessons from their new research.

Published: 14th June 2023

We are a research team from the University of Liverpool. From March 2022 to June 2023, we carried out a study to find out how survivors use digital technologies, what kinds of technologies their support organisations give them and the challenges they experience. We also investigated how support organisations work to help survivors in their use of digital technologies and what barriers they face. You can read the full report and a shorter summary here.

Working in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA), we spoke to people working at frontline organisations supporting survivors, as well as survivors themselves, and here is what we found out.

1. Survivors need access to digital technology for everyday life.

Survivors need access to digital technologies like laptops, smartphones and data so they can do everyday essential tasks like banking, shopping, and talking to their friends and family. They also need digital access so they can use online government support services and get in touch with their support organisations for services like counselling and legal advice. This is really important for survivors to become more independent and take part in society.

2. Provision of digital technologies for survivors is not good enough.

When people are identified as potential survivors, they enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is a system that supports survivors on their journey by providing them with safe housing, legal advice, and other support services. While survivors are often given digital devices as part of their NRM support package, we found that this provision is inconsistent, dependent on funding or donations, insufficiently monitored and often temporary.

3. Skills and training are just as important as devices for survivors.

Survivors especially need to know how to stay safe online as they may be vulnerable to re-exploitation and at risk of re-trafficking. Survivors also need digital skills training to help them to access services delivered online. However, training at the moment is inconsistent. Not all support organisations offer training and, when they do, the type of training can be different for each provider. Often training lacks balance - some give individual support which is informal and tailor-made for survivors, others have programmes that are more formal, and only a few do both.

4. Some survivors do not know about the NRM.

We found that organisations valued digital technologies to manage and make referrals to the NRM for support. However, survivors involved in this study were largely unaware of the NRM itself, despite receiving NRM support, illustrating a lack of informed consent.

What we recommend

For the UK Government:

  • Provide increased and more consistent funding for digital support.
  • Implement a minimum digital requirement for survivors as part of the NRM support package.
  • Explore the creation of a secure online support portal to be used by organisations and survivors so they can follow their own progress.
  • Encourage organisations to provide information in multiple languages.

For support organisations:

  • Explore the use of an online portal.
  • Take a balanced approach to digital training, including both formal and informal training.
  • Explore the creation and use of a centralised body supervising the delivery of digital training.

If survivors are to successfully reintegrate into society, they need access to digital technologies and the skills and knowledge to use them safely. It is only by taking collective responsibility and improving the provision of digital support for this group that we will create a better environment for them to not just survive, but thrive in the digital age.