Position Postgraduate Researcher
Institution Birkbeck University
Discipline Political and Social Sciences
Affiliations  Alys.Cooke2@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Personal Bio

IMG_4483 - Alys CookeIn 2013, I graduated from University of Warwick, with a BA in Politics and International Studies. My taught studies focused on the relationships between international development, gender and conflict. During the course of my degree, I spent a year studying in Barcelona, and 6 months on an exchange to City University Hong Kong. These international experiences gave me the opportunity to study these key themes from a very different perspective, and I began to reflect on the impact on migration on people’s lives, opportunities and experiences. My undergraduate dissertation was titled ‘Silent Survivors? Giving a Voice and Identity to Women Trafficked into the Sex Trade’. This focused on the impact of anti-trafficking legislation and campaigns on the voice and agency of sex-trafficked women, and the ongoing detrimental impact this had on improvements to anti-trafficking mechanisms.

Following my degree I joined the Civil Service, and in 2016 joined the Modern Slavery Unit in the Home Office as the policy lead for adult victim support. This includes managing the Victim Care Contract, which supports adult potential victims during the National Referral Mechanism, and working with key stakeholders to develop and implement strategies to improve the support provided to victims in England and Wales.

Alongside my day job, I am studying a part time masters in International Development and Social Anthropology. I am at the beginning of my research for my thesis, but this will be focused on the voice and agency of children, both those who have been victims of modern slavery, and those who have witnessed the exploitation of their parents, guardians or other adults and the implications this has for their support needs.

Research Profile

Child survivors’ agency, voice and experience

My undergraduate dissertation focused on how the voices of trafficked women were manipulated, their identities dictated and lived experiences ignored by those who sought to rescue and protect them. It looked at the experiences of survivors across the globe, and the challenges around improving legislation and protection mechanisms, when these women didn’t have a voice.

It argued that survivor’s voices were manipulated when the state sought to categorise them, homogenising and idealising their experiences until they became the ‘iconic’ victim, which reflected media and judicial understanding of trafficking. It argued that the ‘value’ of the victim to the state was in their ability to become this iconic victim and assist a prosecution; their experiences became secondary to their ability to aid law enforcement. Furthermore, the creation of this iconic victim occurred as a result of media and NGO campaigns, which sought to create images of trafficked women as powerless and vulnerable adults, with no means of supporting or protecting themselves. This is contradictory to many of the experiences of survivors, whose very agency lead resulted in their migration and, for some, one poor but active choice lead to their exploitation. This portrayal had a knock-on impact for survivor’s rehabilitation and reintegration into communities. The culmination of removal and dictation of voice and identity meant that women’s experiences were ignored – by anti-trafficking initiatives and by government policy makers. It acknowledged the difficulty that many women may face in sharing their experiences multiple times, and also the potential bias and agendas that may influence how the NGOs supporting these survivors represent them. The research argued that the best way for these experiences to be understood and shared in an appropriate way was through greater involvement of feminist academics, who would be able to neutrally and clearly share the experiences and needs of survivors, in a way that would influence and inform interested governments and NGOs.

My masters research will take key themes that I identified as part of my undergraduate dissertation and seek to understand whether they can be transposed to the experiences of children. I will explore how the legislation, procedure and processes which define and support child victims of slavery are combined with societal attitudes around childhood to potentially remove agency and voice from the child, which the child may have expressed in their past. It will consider how identity of children who have been trafficked or enslaved may be dictated, simply by the very nature of them being under 18, manipulated by the media, campaigners or the state, or ignored as actors act ‘in the best interest of the child’. I am interested to also consider the experiences of children who have not directly been exploited, but have witnessed the exploitation of adults around them, and the impact this has on their support needs and mental and physical health in the future.