Loading content

We’re rethinking measuring outcomes of survivors’ recovery

Support for people affected by modern slavery needs to be guided by meaningful outcomes. Blog by Sohail Jannesari.

Published: 25th March 2022

People affected by modern slavery experience serious and long-term health, social, and economic consequences. Yet we don’t fully understand what works to support the recovery of survivors, what recovery means and how it should be measured.

To address this, our Modern Slavery PEC research project, carried out by King’s College London in close collaboration with University of Nottingham, Helen Bamber Foundation and the Survivor Alliance, has set about to establish the core outcomes and indicators of recovery. Today we’re publishing a long list of outcomes that we co-developed in the first phase of our project.

Creating a list of minimum outcomes to measure might not sound like the most exciting, game-changing piece of research. But I was heartened to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction of our survivor peer-researchers and charity partners to our early longlist. We have co-developed a set of affirmative, constructive and aspirational outcomes that reflect the lived experience of people who have survived human trafficking and modern slavery. Our work provides welcome relief and progress from deficit-based, medicalised, numerical understandings of survivor outcomes.

Currently, there is no consensus on the definition and measurement of recovery, health or reintegration outcomes for survivors. Our longlist addresses this gap, providing a set of outcome measures for service providers, academics and policymakers working with survivors of modern slavery. It also aims to enhance the quality, value, and relevance of research and evaluation.

We’re proud to have developed these outcomes in close collaboration with survivors through our peer researchers, survivor research advisory board (which includes seven members), supplementary interviews marginalised survivor groups (eight interviews), analysis of fully anonymised pre-existing interview transcripts with survivors of modern slavery (36 transcripts), and by inviting people with lived experience to our two exploratory workshops, with a total of 80 attendees. The exploratory workshops were remarkable in bringing together survivors, practitioners, academics and policymakers in a safe environment where everybody could speak about what outcomes matter. Alongside the workshops and interviews, we used three literature reviews (qualitative, quantitative, and grey) summarising 46 papers and reports to finalise our longlist, which we’re publishing alongside the list of outcomes.

We arrived at ten different outcome domains, each with five or six outcomes that we’ve described in detail. These outcomes expand our understanding of what anti-trafficking interventions need to achieve. They include outcomes in the following domains:

  • consistency and stability
  • recognition, understanding and awareness
  • opportunities
  • belonging and social support
  • agency and purpose
  • safety
  • health and wellbeing
  • rights, justice and dignity
  • supportive services
  • creating change.

There were some more expected, practically focussed outcomes on what can be done to improve the lives of survivors in domains such as ‘life opportunities’, ‘supportive services’ and ‘consistency and stability in everyday life’. ‘Safety’ was a core domain in our longlist, including basic outcomes around preventing re-exploitation and safety from traffickers. ‘Safety’ also encompassed safety in mental health services, at home and in safe houses. Many survivors from the secondary analysis and the supplementary interviews described accounts of sexual and physical abuse, drug dealing, sex working, verbal abuse and the presence of perpetrators in safe houses.

There were also very expansive outcome domains that comprised calls for systemic change in the way survivors are treated by government institutions, charities and the public. These were the ‘creating change’, ‘rights, justice and dignity’, and ‘recognition, understanding, and awareness from practitioners and institutions’ outcome domains. ‘Rights, justice and dignity’ included an outcome around less institutional racism in government, services and first responders such as the police. This was the ‘fair treatment of survivors’ outcome, which detailed how survivors needed to be believed and respected by institutions. Our close work with survivors shines through in the domains around ‘agency and purpose’ and ‘creating change’. Outcomes in these domains called for survivor self-sufficiency, services to be led by survivors, and demanding the right to influence government policy.

Our longlist represents an important step, taken in partnership with survivors, NGOs and policymakers, in ensuring the wellbeing of survivors of human trafficking, reducing the health inequalities around this group, and strengthening state support and charity institutions by holding them to account.

But we are not done yet. For the next stage of our work, we are inviting experts by profession and experience to take part in an exercise to prioritise and finalise a core set of ten outcomes that service providers and policymakers should consider when evaluating and designing interventions. We hope our work can provide the necessary evidence for developing support programmes with meeting the needs of people with lived experience at their heart.

Round 1 of the workshop, which will be based on the E-Delphi method, will now be launched on 4 April. If you are interested in taking part in our project, please email us on mscos@kcl.ac.uk. You can also find out more about our work on our website www.mscos.co.uk.

Sohail Jannessari is a migrants' rights researcher at King’s College London. You can find out more about his work on his website and follow him on Twitter.