The Perpetrators of Modern Slavery Offences: Motivations, Networks and Backgrounds

Project Details



This project seeks to shed light on the complex ecology of modern slavery by studying the life histories of perpetrators of modern slavery offences and the social networks within which they are embedded.

It is the first in the UK to study three sources of data about this group: National Referral Mechanism (NRM) outcomes; police crime and intelligence records; and primary research interviews – conducted in this project – with those convicted under modern slavery legislation within the UK.

Using a combination of statistical, psychosocial and social network analyses we will expose the connections, tensions and interdependencies among victims, perpetrators, those involved in allied business activity (whether licit or illicit) and regulatory, law enforcement and border control agents.

The research will be able to demonstrate, from official and offender vantage points, how perpetrators organise and carry out their activities.

It will thus illuminate the complexity of the personal, social, and economic dynamics that need to be considered if unintended consequences are to be avoided in measures to tackle modern slavery and ways of working with these perpetrators are to be developed.


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:

- Map out the contours of modern slavery as recorded by the police over the three years since the inception of the Modern Slavery Act

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

Research materials

The project aims to interview 30 participants using a mixture of narrative and social network mapping techniques.

Our information sheet ( provides details of how we approach the interviews and how confidentiality is maintained for participants.

If you are working with someone who you think would like to participate in the research, please email Rose Broad or David Gadd and we will give you a call back.

Outputs and briefings

Our blog ‘The Truth About Modern Slavery Offenders‘ in Open Democracy provides a preview of the findings of our in-depth interviews with convicted perpetrators and a critique of the assumptions behind the Borders and Nationality Bill, 2021.

Our briefing ‘Temporal Measures of modern Slavery Victimisation‘ summarises the key findings from our article that makes the case for assessing the effectiveness of law enforcement interventions in terms of how long exploitation has endured or been undetected.

Our research note ‘The Profile of Modern Slavery Victims and Suspects in Police Data‘ provides an overview of what three years of police data reveals about who exploits who.

Our blog ‘Stop describing modern slavery as ‘evil’‘ explains how the usage of biblical terminology in government policy risks appeasing the public’s discomfort at their complicity in the exploitation of those deemed ‘illegal immigrants’.

Our blog on immigration policy after Brexit ‘Point-scoring and modern slavery‘ explains how new immigration law risks exacerbating the exploitation of foreign national workers.

Academic publications

Albanese, J. Broad, R., & Gadd, D. (2022) Consent, Coercion, and Fraud in Human Trafficking Relationships. Journal of Human Trafficking

Lightowlers, C., Broad, R. and Gadd, D. (2021) Victims and Suspects of Modern Slavery: identifying subgroups using latent class analysis. Policing. 15(2):1384-1398.

Gadd, D. and Broad, R. (2018) Troubling recognitions in British responses to modern slavery. The British Journal of Criminology. 58(6):1440–1461


Our 2018 report, Mapping the Contours of Modern Slavery in Greater Manchester, prepared under an N8 PRP grant, provided a foundation for the quantitative part of the ESRC funded project on the Perpetrators of Modern Slavery Offences.

Our 2021 report, Profiling Modern Slavery: Victims, Suspects and Crimes, provides an update on the intelligence picture as recorded by Greater Manchester Police up to 2018.

It also includes analyses revealing the typical length of time victims of the different forms of modern slavery remained trapped in exploitation, and the considerable delays between exploitation ending and reporting to the police.


We presented a paper entitled ‘Getting into Bed with Immigration Law: The Dangers of Conflating Sham Marriage and Modern Slavery’, at the European Society of Criminology Conference, Sarajevo in August 2018 and another entitled ‘Sex Traffickers on Sex Trafficking‘ at the European Society of Criminology Conference, Ghent, Septemeber 2019 .

If you would like to see a full draft of these papers please feel free to get in touch.


In July 2018 we provided written evidence to the UK Government’s Modern Slavery Inquiry.

In October 2019 we provided written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into Prostitution.

Our recommendations to the Sentencing Advisory Council were taken forward in their (2021) report Modern Slavery Offences Guidelines.

Short titleR:HWW ESRC open R Broad
Effective start/end date21/04/1820/10/21

Collaborative partners

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.