Towards an evidence-based investigation framework for human trafficking crimes




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Human Trafficking (HT) is one of the most complex crimes to detect and investigate. Yet, the empirical understanding that exists on HT investigations is minimal. While the research conducted so far has mainly focussed on examining the challenges law enforcement agencies face when detecting and investigating HT, very few studies have aimed to understand and explore the law enforcement response when investigating HT crimes. Moreover, the little research that does exist has mostly evaluated the police response to secure the prosecution of offenders. This PhD thesis takes a novel research approach to the study of HT criminal investigations by empirically examining the investigation process to ensure the prosecution of offenders, the safeguarding of victims and the disruption of this crime.

The thesis provides empirical insight and evaluation of the current actions and strategies taken by police forces in England and Wales when investigating HT crimes and, therefore, gives data-driven recommendations to improve its investigation. The thesis consists of three empirical studies that examine different aspects of the investigation process. Study 1, through thematic analysis, identifies (through interviewing highly experienced and senior professionals in the UK) twenty-two core investigative actions that should be taken in order to underpin effective HT investigations. Study 2, in turn, examines three HT investigations, by using case study analyses, and provides insight into those factors that influence the investigation process. Finally, Study 3 through use of the repertory grid technique methodology, examines multi-agency collaborations (an element that was found to be crucial to effective investigations in the prior two studies of the thesis) when investigating HT. This third study identifies the areas of investigation where police forces need to collaborate with partners agencies, as well as which agencies are most capable of providing different types of support.

Through the use of different methodologies exploring the investigation process, findings from this thesis minimise the existing gap of knowledge concerning HT investigations and provide an empirical understanding of an area which was bereft of prior meaningful research. It sets the ground towards a more empirically-based law enforcement response to HT crimes, offering data-driven recommendations and identifying critical aspects that need further empirical examination. Overall, this PhD thesis provides the basis for the development of an empirically-based investigation framework for trafficking crimes that will inform policy and practice as well as direct future lines of research.





Research Institute