Social Media-Facilitated Trafficking of Children and Young People

Several steps of the human trafficking process have moved online. And as children and young people’s use of social media increases, they are at higher risk of exploitation.

Young woman holding a mobile phone in her hands

This project aims to:

  • Better understand how social media is used in the trafficking of children and young people;
  • Identify social and structural factors associated with social media-facilitated trafficking (SMFT) that could be addressed to disrupt the trafficking of children and young people without causing harm to victims or at-risk groups;
  • Co-create recommendations to address SMFT across policy and practice.


With an increasing availability of online tools, human trafficking is evolving. Traffickers are adapting their tactics to exploit vulnerable people while minimising the risk of detection and increasing opportunities for profit. In particular, traffickers are using online methods to identify and recruit victims, as well as exploit and exert control over them.

Despite this, and the increased use of social media among young people, social media’s role in facilitating human trafficking has been largely absent from current research. Moreover, the evolving online landscape and the use of social media by children and young people continue to pose issues for professionals working to respond to child exploitation.

This project will combine interdisciplinary and participatory research methods to gather evidence on this topic and explore the potential for change.


The project seeks to understand how trafficking develops online. It aims to create a set of recommendations that will inform collaborative responses to address social media-facilitated trafficking of young people and minimise vulnerabilities of at-risk groups.


The project has been co-designed with policymakers, non-governmental organisations and service providers, practitioners and people with lived experiences of exploitation. Different research methods and data sources will be used to better understand and respond to this shifting threat. This includes crime script analysis, participatory system mapping and questionnaires (distributed across practitioners in England and Wales involved in the response to the exploitation of children and young people).

The research team expect findings will provide insight on:

  • methods specific to social media-facilitated trafficking of children and young people;
  • current gaps and barriers to effectively respond to social media facilitated trafficking;
  • opportunities for disruption and early identification.

Working with relevant stakeholders, the team will co-create recommendations to inform the response to this complex threat.


Lead Investigator


  • Dr Imogen Fell
  • Dr Ben Brewster
  • Dr Zoi Krokida