Katie Lawson
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Fighting the hidden crime of modern slavery

Katherine Lawson (MSt Applied Criminology and Police Management 2020) explains how her studies at Fitz are helping to inform her work with the Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

I am currently studying for an MSt in Applied Criminology and Police Management, also known as the Cambridge Police Executive Programme. This is a part-time course designed to fit in with – and inform – the day-to-day working of practitioners and policymakers in law enforcement.

While most students on the course are police officers, my role is slightly different. I work for the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, as Research and Innovation Lead.

The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery offences and the identification of victims. My studying is very kindly being supported by the office so that I can help inform this work, and Dame Sara herself is an alumna of the Cambridge Police Executive Programme.

Modern slavery is a crime in which individuals are exploited for little or no pay. This exploitation can take the form of forced labour, forced criminality, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or even organ trafficking. We know that more people are being identified every year in the UK as having experienced modern slavery and/or human trafficking, but it is difficult to quantify how many people are subjected to this abuse, as it is a largely hidden crime. Lockdown has made this even more difficult.

There is a lot of research taking place to critically engage with the issue of modern slavery. My role focuses on joining up these efforts, working with academics, policymakers and practitioners to build the evidence base. It is also really important that we listen to those who have been exploited, so that their views can inform research on modern slavery as well as policymaking.

This includes informing the approach of law enforcement practitioners, who have a crucial role to play in tackling modern slavery but also in preventing it. As a student on the MSt, I have a unique opportunity to explore how evidence-based policing can be applied in less obvious operational settings, particularly to complex crimes such as modern slavery.

The course is centred around the concept of evidence-based policing. This approach focuses on the application of tested practices to target police resources more efficiently, with the aim to reduce harm to victims of crime, professionalise police practice and develop a cohort of “pracademics”.

Our office is based in London although we have been working from home for many months. It was therefore a real privilege to be able to begin the MSt earlier this year, despite the challenges of Coronavirus, and to spend time in Cambridge and stay in Fitzwilliam College.

Everyone at Fitzwilliam College has been incredibly welcoming. Again, despite the recent challenges my two weeks staying at the College for the most recent course block were so memorable. We were offered a tour of the buildings and beautiful grounds, treated to a sumptuous matriculation dinner and even enjoyed an outdoor film night with pizza (all socially distanced!). Although I have studied before, staying in a college was a new experience for me and I’d like to thank the students and staff for making us all feel immediately at home.

There are lots of great events held by the College as well. I recently attended a Fresh Thinking at Fitz event, where the Master Baroness Sally Morgan discussed reporting on modern slavery with Special Correspondent of The Guardian Felicity Lawrence. It was refreshing to see the interest in this topic from the wide range of people who joined, and the discussion brought new perspectives which I could take back to my day job. I have already learned so much through my studies and from college life and am looking forward to continuing this adventure in the New Year.

Katie Lawson
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