During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have relied on digital technology to communicate. However, many people have little or no access to this kind of technology, and often these same people also face significant social and health inequalities.
This project aims to tackle the digital exclusion experienced by survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. It is a collaboration with Unseen, a Bristol-based organisation that provides care and support for survivors, offering a safe place for them to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives. Survivors of modern slavery (defined by the Modern Slavery Act 2015) may have experienced forced work through mental or physical threat or abuse, been dehumanised and treated as a commodity, or physically constrained, including being trafficked for sexual exploitation or forced labour.
For some of the people that Unseen supports, technology may have been used to recruit, control and exploit them. Unseen want to use the project to change this relationship with technology and instead, support people to use technology so that people have freedom and independence.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, BT donated smartphones, SIM cards and data bundles to up to 100 people who are receiving support from Unseen. This project aims to understand the impact access to mobile technology has had on this group, in terms of their mental health, well-being and social connections, their ability to access services and their levels of independence and isolation.
The findings indicate that access to technology to get online is extremely beneficial to survivors’ wellbeing regardless of a pandemic situation. During the pandemic such access was essential in providing a mechanism by which survivors could support themselves at a time when face-to-face access to support was severely limited. Smartphones and data packages assisted survivors to:
Access to technology should not be seen as a standalone solution but should be offered as part of a holistic, needs-based support package for survivors, with support staff playing a key role in its delivery.
Download ‘Impact of mobile technology for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking: A mixed method study’ (PDF) from the Unseen website.
An academic research article is being submitted for review.
Find out more about this project in this video:
The research shows that having a mobile phone has benefitted Unseen’s service users, in many ways. We recommend that: