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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Criminalisation of Migrant Women

Grant reference: RES-062-23-2348

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Impact Report details

The Criminalisation of Migrant Women
This research furthers our understanding of the hidden victimisation of migrant women, that is, foreign national women who have been trafficked into the country or smuggled in and who have been subject to abuse /made to work under duress, and who end up on criminal charges. The research findings indicate a low referral rate to the National Referral Mechanism - designed by government to protect victims of trafficking - and non compliance with the European Convention to protect victims of trafficking. The research outlines reasons for this and offers a number of recommendations in relation to policy and practice.

Primary contributor

Author Loraine Gelsthorpe

Additional contributors

Co-author Liz Hales


The research findings indicate a low referral rate to the National Referral Mechanism - designed by government to protect victims of trafficking - and non compliance with the European Convention to protect victims of trafficking. The research outlines reasons for this and offers a number of recommendations in relation to policy and practice. Our first task was to identify whether there are potential victims of trafficking, smuggling and work under duress in custody. Our second task was to provide evidence on how such victims are managed within the Criminal Justice System and by the UK Border Agency. From this, we noted contravention of the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Having identified a number of women in prison for offences which might yield information on potential victimization, and following on from research presentations to foreign prisoners and detainees in selected research sites, 103 migrant women charged or sentenced for offences potentially linked with illegal entry or exit from the UK or work under the control of others consented to initial screening interviews. From these interviews evidence emerged that 43 were victims of trafficking (of whom two were formally re-assessed as children whilst in the adult estate). (Conclusions as to ‘victimisation of trafficking’ were drawn from accounts of recruitment, transportation, exploitation and evidence of physical and emotional abuse as outlined in the section on Identifying Victims in SOCA (2012) National Referral Mechanism (NRM) An additional 5 women had entered the country independently, but had then been worked in slavery or servitude like conditions and 10 had entered the UK in the hands of agents and had been arrested resultant on the theft of personal documents by their smugglers.

11 of the 43 women identified as victims of trafficking had been processed through the National Referral Mechanism. 4 other women were advised that an NRM referral was open to them, but for various reasons they declined. For 36 women there was no formal recognition of their victim status and no access to appropriate support or protection from deportation other than applying for asylum. The findings suggest a number of contributory factors regarding the low recognition and referral rate, including apparent failure by those making arrest to facilitate or respond appropriately to disclosures of victimisation and to understand the impact of ongoing threats on the arrestee’s ability to fully and freely disclose all that had happened at their initial interview; inconsistent and limited contact time with legal representatives which inhibits trust; lack of knowledge and /or uncertainty by potential first responders in terms of their roles and responsibilities within the NRM. Policy and practice recommendations include: training and procedural improvements regarding the identification of victims; the development of guidelines to facilitate speedy Reasonable Grounds (RG) assessments by experienced advocates for those appearing in court and for whom bail is routinely denied until this decision has been made, and the training and involvement of healthcare staff as active first responders. The management of victims could be improved by access to induction videos for all remand prisoners, with interpreted subtitles in the key languages on how the court system functions and what happens at different phases, including explanation of legal terms such as indictment, plea and mitigation, and better interpreting support, with follow up checks that the defendant understands what is being said. In sum, research reveals hidden victimisation, shows low use of the NRM, and detailed empirically based explanation for this thus increasing understanding of issues.

• Presentation at the Clinical forum at HMP Holloway in November 2011 on the research • Article in Prison Service Journal November 2011, Criminalisation of Migrant Women • May 2011 Presentation to the Cambridge Socio-legal Group, Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge • 03/11/2011 Seminar for Oxford COMPASS seminar series on Mobility, Crime and Citizenship • 16/12//11 Workshop for DAS annual conference on Victims of Trafficking in Custody • 13/01/2012 Workshop on Criminalisation of Migrant Women Workers at international conference on Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Practice at Institute of Criminology and Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, UK • February 2012 Presentation on research findings to the Trafficking Law and Policy Forum • Article in February 2012 in Women’s Asylum News ‘Victims of trafficking, smuggling and work under duress in custody’ • 24/08/12 Full Report published on line as well as in hard copy, with mention in: o The Migrant Rights Network newsletter (August, 2012) o The DAS monthly newsletter (August, 2012) • Mention made of the published report in September/October issue of Women’s Asylum News, issue 113 2012 • Participation in the ‘Foreign national prisoners: Meeting the challenges ahead’ – DAS 20th anniversary conference 17 September 2012 • October, 2012, published report disseminated to members of the Ely Amnesty International Group

We would suggest that our research has had impact upon the following - in terms of increasing understanding through our detailed empirical research. • The Open Democracy network: (OpenDemocracy publishes high quality news analysis, debates and blogs about the world) • Secretariat of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA and Committee of the Parties) Justice and Human Dignity Directorate, Council of Europe • Specific members of the academic community including: Dr Mary Bosworth at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford who is carrying out related work on the detention of asylum seekers, and Dr Margaret Malloch, at the University of Stirling • Prison Reform Trust • Salvation Army, UK • Cambridgeshire Police Force (Head of Investigations) • Metropolitan Police Force (Betsy Stanko, Deputy Head, Strategy and Performance; also Hon. Professor at Royal Holloway) • Prison Governors - whose prisons formed key research sites, the UKBA, HMP Courts and Tribunal Services, specialist solicitors working with asylum seekers and trafficked persons, UKBA Enforcement and Asylum Research Unit, the International Organization for Migration, UK; Anti Slavery International; Migrants Rights network; FPWP/Hibiscus; the Criminal Casework Directorate UKBA; Dame Anne Owers IPPC; Baroness Helena Kennedy; Lord Ramsbotham, other key dignitories, and range of NGOs • We would also suggest that our research findings have had impact on our Research Advisory Group including a specialist solicitor, UKBA representatives, Ministry of Justice representatives, and a representative from both the Detention Advice Service and FPWP/Hibiscus.

We are setting up a House of Lords seminar (December 2012) to disseminate the findings to a political and policy related audience. We are also planning a seminar for those involved in the original Advisory Group (or their representatives) regarding the policy implications. With the increased understanding of issues reached we are working with the Metropolitan Police and Cambridgeshire Police to develop action research on how better to identify victims of trafficking. In light of the research findings there has also been interest from the Salvation Army regarding evaluation of their support services for victims of trafficking. We are preparing articles for publication in both academic and professional journals. An article on the findings is due to be published in the Prison Service Journal (March 2013). An article based on the research in relation to ‘language barriers’ has been submitted to the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. In addition, we will give a presentation on our research to the ‘Bringing Human Trafficking Out of the Shadows’ BAWSO (Black Association of Women Step Out Ltd) organized ‘awareness raising’ international conference on 21st November, 2012 - designed for police service personnel, government departments and agencies, housing officials, public health practitioners, UK Border Agency staff, equality and human rights practitioners, Social Services personnel, victim support organizations, media organizations, judges and magistrates, legal professionals, migration organizations, visa and consular personnel in national administrations, licensed entertainment industry and private sector organisations and many others. We are also participating in a series of events organized by Dr Malloch for an international group of academics and policy makers on ‘Human Trafficking: Conceptualising Definitions, Responses and ‘What needs to be done?’ funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute.

No limitations that we are aware of. Our strategy to achieve impact involves a mixture of planned and opportunistic publication initiatives.

We would suggest that there is much scope for our research findings to have impact on policy and practice and we are using every opportunity to engage with policy makers to discuss the findings. We are also seeking opportunities to achieve impact by ensuring participation on policy related debates about human trafficking. Impact on policy will take time.

Cite this outcome


Gelsthorpe, Loraine and Hales, Liz. Criminalisation of Migrant Women: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-2348. Swindon: ESRC


Gelsthorpe Loraine and Hales Liz. Criminalisation of Migrant Women: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-2348. Swindon: ESRC.