Introducing the Slave Next Door


  • Jen Birks
  • Alison Gardner



human trafficking, modern slavery, local, media, campaigns, perceptions


Past studies have indicated that the British public consider human trafficking to be remote from their personal experiences. However, an increase in local press reporting, alongside the emergence of locally co-ordinated anti-modern slavery campaigns, is starting to encourage communities to recognise the potential for modern slavery and human trafficking to exist in their own localities. In this article, we examine how local media and campaigns may be influencing public perceptions of modern slavery and human trafficking. We draw upon a content analysis of local newspapers to review how reports represent cases of modern slavery, and use focus group discussions to understand how local coverage modifies—and sometimes reinforces—existing views. We find that, whilst our participants were often surprised to learn that cases of modern slavery and human trafficking had been identified in their area, other stereotypical associations remained entrenched, such as a presumed connection between modern slavery and irregular migration. We also noted a reluctance to report potential cases, especially from those most sympathetic to potential victims, linked to concerns about adequacy of support for survivors and negative consequences relating to immigration. These concerns suggest that the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ to migrants may be undermining the effectiveness of ‘spot the signs’ campaigns, by discouraging individuals from reporting.


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Author Biographies

Jen Birks

Jen Birks is Assistant Professor in media in the Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies at the University of Nottingham. Her research examines the representation of social justice issues and campaigning in the news, and the role of civil society actors in shaping news framing. She is the author of News and Civil Society (Ashgate, 2014) and Fact-checking Journalism and Political Argumentation (Palgrave, forthcoming 2019), and co-convener of the Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group.

Alison Gardner

Alison Gardner holds a Nottingham Research Fellowship in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. She leads ‘Slavery-Free Communities’, a ground-breaking research programme focussed on developing local, community and place-based responses to modern slavery. She is part of the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, which aims to contribute to the UN’s goal of ending modern slavery, human trafficking, child labour and forced labour by 2030.




How to Cite

Birks, J., & Gardner, A. (2019). Introducing the Slave Next Door. Anti-Trafficking Review, (13), 66–81.