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Professor Sylvia Walby OBE launches research on human trafficking policy and intervention

Professor Sylvia Walby OBE launches research on human trafficking policy and intervention

  • Date31 May 2024

Criminology Professor, Sylvia Walby, has published a book entitled Trafficking Chains: Modern Slavery in Society with Professor Karen Shire of University of Duisburg-Essen to help academics, policymakers and governments, tackle human trafficking.

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Photo by Kaique Rocha

Despite economic development, human trafficking persists all around the world and includes a broad range of coercive and exploitive activities. 

Professor Walby said: “Human trafficking is defined in international law using the concept of coercion rather than violence. It's the exploitation of the vulnerability of others using coercion, which is considered so unacceptable that it has been designated a crime.  

“There is often violence in it, but force is not necessary for it to be legally defined a crime. Debt bondage for example, is a form of human trafficking. It might not involve physical force or chains, but the coercion involved with some types of debt results in people being controlled.”  

Her research outlines how human trafficking is not just an issue of crime, but of regulation of the economy, better welfare, and social protections.  

“With this work, I’m trying to rebuild a theory of society which takes better account of gender inequality and violence, and human trafficking is an example of that. Some responses to violence have argued for increased mobilisation of the criminal justice system to address these acts. While it’s correct to criminalise these acts, often that’s not the most effective route to reducing them.  

“Our work suggests that better regulation of the economy and greater attention to following the profits is a more appropriate way to reduce trafficking. If the economy were better regulated, there would be fewer examples of these forms of exploitation. For instance, if it was not possible to take excessive fees from migrants seeking work, then people would be less likely to take on these odious forms of debt.”    

The book explores intersecting regimes that contribute to the cause of human trafficking such as gender inequality, capitalism, and the legacies of colonialism.  

“Human trafficking is often treated as either violent crime or economic inequality and employment. However, our research shows the importance of addressing both these aspects.  

“To develop the best interventions, we need to better understand human trafficking and the societal complexities that perpetuate it,” explained Professor Walby. 

Her research has been presented to the European Commission, United Nations, and the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee. 

The book Traffic Chains: Modern Slavery in Society follows on from four related research reports funded by the European Commission designed to improve policy; the gender dimension of trafficking human beings, a comprehensive review of more than 300 projects, data on trafficking, and the societal cost of trafficking human beings.  

Professor Walby joined Royal Holloway last year but has researched violence, society, and gender inequality for many years and is a well-known global authority in the field. 

“My work in violence and society sits inside multiple disciplines so joining such a multidisciplinary Law and Criminology Department, which includes law, criminology, sociology, social policy to psychology has been a great benefit.”

There are many issues in the real world that criminology, sociology and other social sciences provide a scientific understanding of.  

“If you care about problems like violence, domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking and want to understand them beyond popular understandings, our degrees at Royal Holloway in criminology, and the joint degrees between criminology and the different social sciences, offer an excellent intellectual foundation to understand what’s going on in the world.”  

Professor Walby is now building a platform called the Futures of Violence. The project will bring people together from a wide range of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, and artificial intelligence.  

“It’s my hope that Royal Holloway will become the go to place for robust data and analysis of violence in the UK, Europe and globally,” she added.  

Professor Walby will be speaking on Futures of Violence at the UCL Sociology Network Annual Lecture on 6 June and the British Academy Summer Showcase on 11 July.



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