Prevention of adult sexual and labour exploitation in the UK: What does or could work?

Prevention of adult sexual and labour exploitation in the UK: What does or could work?

Prevention of adult sexual and labour exploitation in the UK: What does or could work?


Preventing modern slavery is a global goal. However, there remain significant evidence gaps about ‘what works’ for whom, for which form of exploitation and in what contexts. This research explored what does or could work in the prevention of two forms of modern slavery among adults in the UK: labour and sexual exploitation.1 It examined what has been tried in prevention programmes, projects and initiatives, not including legal or policy interventions, and considered promising practice.

Key findings

A ‘whole systems’ approach to modern slavery prevention is required. Prevention is an important but relatively underdeveloped aspect of the response to modern slavery, with limited evidence on what prevention means in principle and in practice. This research contributes to the conceptual understanding of prevention by proposing a new definition of modern slavery prevention, informed by people with lived experience, which highlights that prevention is an ongoing process of avoiding and minimising exploitation and harm, which can be achieved through intervening before harm occurs, by intervening early and by treating harms.

Five key pathways to prevention and 25 types of intervention. Our systematic assessment identified five key pathways towards prevention and 25 different types of interventions in the UK that aim to prevent sexual and labour exploitation. The five key ways in which interventions are expected to work are through enabling access to fundamental resources; promoting literacy; building power and control; deterrence and disruption; and building partnerships (see pg6 for a detailed description of the pathways). Examples of interventions include: awareness and information campaigns; education and training initiatives; advocacy; and provision of safe spaces for those affected by exploitation.

How to prevent harm in the first place is poorly understood. Interventions focused on preventing exploitation in the first place were preferred by consultation panels, but they have rarely been tried or evaluated to a high standard. There is a larger volume of and better quality evidence on interventions that aim to treat harm after exploitation has taken place.

Promising practices. Based on our assessment of the available evidence, and informed by discussions with those with lived experience, we suggest what looks promising for prevention interventions:

  1. Ensuring commissioning, design and delivery of prevention interventions are guided by a clear set of principles set out by this research (for example, harm avoidance first, ensuring cultural competence and having a clear Theory of Change in place);
  2. Prioritising community-based and survivor-led initiatives; promoting deep understanding and skills for taking action to change the conditions that give rise to exploitation (rather than ‘surface knowledge’) among multiple groups, including people at risk, survivors, statutory and non-statutory agencies and the public. In addition, supporting trust-building and culturally-safe interventions (e.g. between communities and statutory services); and
  3. Putting in place co-ordinated, ‘whole systems’ responses to modern slavery at national and local levels

Read full report summary here.