Counselling session with young black man talking to female counsellor holding a clipboard

Survivors of modern slavery overwhelmingly need access to suitable psychological assistance, and yet nearly half said that their needs were not being met according to a new report published today.

Research from the University of Birmingham, the University of Nottingham, and the Survivor Alliance, funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre and Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC) has assessed the experiences of survivors of modern slavery in getting psychological support.

Working with 90 survivors and 26 service providers across England and Wales, researchers found that although the majority of participants had been able to access some form of assistance for their wellbeing, nearly half felt that support was inadequate to address their needs.

They don’t differentiate between different types of therapy, they just go, oh you got therapy and that's okay. There's no individual assessment to say whether that person's got the right therapy.

Survivor workshop

Key findings

  • 97% of survivors said that they needed psychological assistance, and
  • 81% of survivors had received some form of support – either individual counselling, group support or wellbeing activities, but
  • 44% of those who needed assistance said that their needs were not met.
  • Survivors raised the need for holistic and culturally-appropriate assistance with specialist services, noting that many providers didn’t have suitable familiarity with the unique challenges faced by modern slavery survivors.
  • Financial support to travel was identified as a key barrier to accessing services.
  • 26% of survivors said that not getting access to suitable accommodation was a key factor for their poor mental wellbeing

Caroline Bradbury-Jones, Professor of Gender Based Violence and Health at the University of Birmingham and co-author of the report said:

“For the nearly 50 million people around the world affected by modern slavery, the trauma that individuals experience threatens to affect their wellbeing long after they have been able to escape exploitation.

“This study is part of our portfolio of research within the Risk, Abuse and Violence research programme, where we have expertise in conducting participatory research with survivors. This latest report demonstrates how important survivors’ voices are in shaping the services they are accessing.”

Nancy Esiovwa from the Survivor Alliance, one of the authors of the report, said:

“For me, going through the project where survivors of modern slavery were able not only involved from the start, but were able to themselves define what mental wellbeing means for them, was a game changer.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a standard practice yet but we hope this project will help expand the space where survivors can come as experts on research projects and help inform policies and practices.

“It was also eye opening to see how differently survivors see wellbeing to those who support them. Whilst practitioners tend to address mental health challenges such as the lack of sleep or anxiety in relative isolation, survivors see a much wider picture, with issues such as uncertainty immigration status, lack of access to jobs or education having a big impact on their overall wellbeing.”

Survivors as researchers

To best understand the way in which modern slavery survivors experience access and barriers to wellbeing support, seven survivors were recruited as peer researchers to co-produce the project. As well as gaining insights through the peer researchers, the report also reflects on key ways to develop and facilitate peer researchers from modern slavery survivors.

Liz Williams, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), which funded the study, said:

“We would like to see survivors of modern slavery meaningfully involved in research. This is why we funded this study, to add to the learning on how to build towards that goal more effectively.

“Only by including survivors as peer researchers we can truly understand what is key to survivors’ wellbeing and recovery and for policies and programmes to support it.”