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The Representation of Transnational Human Trafficking

in present-day News, True Crime and Fiction


In September 2017, we convened a group of academics, police officers, third sector, Home Office and media

representatives, creative writers and filmmakers to discuss findings from our research into the

Representation of

Human Trafficking


The symposium was informed by talks (and also one reading and film) by:

Professor Kevin Bales - University of Nottingham

Dr Charlotte Beyer - University of Gloucestershire

Mark Burns-Williamson – South Yorks Police & Crime Commissioner and Chair of the National

Anti-Trafficking & Modern Day Slavery Network

Dr Melissa Dearey - University of Hull

Bernie Gravett - Special Policing Consultant

Dr Christiana Gregoriou - University of Leeds

Matt Johnson – crime writer

Paul Kenyon – journalist, writer and film-maker

Professor Nicola Mai - Kingston University

Dr Nina Muždeka - University of Novi Sad in Serbia

Dr Ilse Ras – University of Leeds.

The speakers discussed the portrayal of trafficking, traffickers, and victims in: British and Serbian newspapers;

British and Scandinavian crime fiction novels; and in documentaries. They analysed news media and supposedly

factual/fictional discourses published in multiple languages and countries (both inside and outside the European

Union). These include countries of origin for victims of HT, as well as transit and destination countries, providing

an exploration of both dominant and marginalized points of view (as expressed by both organized groups and

individuals). Attention was also given to comparing popular media portrayals with the realities of trafficking.

The input - and discussion that followed - highlighted the subject’s complexity and brought to light several

controversial issues including

media distortions

shaped by economic forces that compel creative producers to

turn human trafficking accounts into ‘newsworthy’ stories, and

the challenge of communicating these stories

in translation

. We also identified trends and practices that led to

the generation of stereotypes, clichés and

reductively formulaic HT narratives


We set out, in the following pages, a set of findings and recommendations that will be of interest to a range of

practitioners whose work involves them in presenting or articulating the realities of HT: creative writers and

filmmakers; police officers and social workers; media agencies and NGOs; educationalists and government


Given the pervasive nature of stereotypes being deployed to represent both the victims and perpetrators of HT (in

the media and popular culture), we have concluded that there is a need to change perceptions and raise awareness

of the complexity of HT. These crimes are local as well as global, and the relationships between victims and

perpetrators are more complex and variable than those portrayed in the media. Addressing the issue is also about

changing prevailing attitudes and practices in the social media and public sphere regarding complex stories of

crime, victimisation and slavery, as well as the need for audiences to actively engage and re-think notions of

culpability and responsibility in general as part of a civic duty shared by all.

Our Policy Brief’s strength is derived from the ways in which our research insight has been debated by our

symposium’s varied participants who are field experts in terms of both research and practice, giving credibility

and authority to our recommendations which hence deserve serious attention.

Dr Christiana Gregoriou

University of Leeds