Computer models developed by a University of Alabama (UA) research team to combat sex trafficking have led to more than 100 arrests in western Alabama in the last year.
The team began working with local, state, and national law enforcement agencies in May 2019. They could offer them something current “off-the-shelf” software couldn’t: tools to filter networks based on geography and predict future sex trafficking activity.
The modeling, developed by the Institute of Data and Analytics at UA’s Culverhouse College of Business, collects data from online sex ads based on text and image content. This helps law enforcement identify potential human traffickers and arrest suspects.
According to the university, the modeling has identified dozens of sex trafficking victims and assisted law enforcement in over 100 arrests since February 2021. At least 40 of those arrests took place in Tuscaloosa alone.
A to learn published in October in the INFORMS Journal on Applied Analytics underscores the research team’s efforts.
“We maintain a secure web portal that summarizes recent activity on popular websites targeting a location within its jurisdiction,” said Professor and Reese Phifer Fellow Dr. Burcu Keskin, one of the authors of the study. “Once we have identified a subset of suspicious networks, we use the details provided in the portal to further examine movement patterns, identify prominent websites used by associated individuals, and identify key phrases, images and phone numbers used. “
Marillyn Hewson Endowed Professor of Cybersecurity Dr. Gregory Bott and Marillyn Hewson faculty colleague Dr. Called Nickolas Freeman. Freeman was the lead author of the study.
Bott said the research team is also helping law enforcement target the demand side of the sex trade, which involves posting fake ads to target potential traffickers.
“Based on our analysis, we have seen a significant increase in average call volume from approximately 40 calls per day without our assistance to more than 106 calls per day in a recent operation,” Bott said. “Higher volume of calls from suspects leads to more arrests and more effective demand reduction.”
According to Alabama Task Force Human Trafficking (AHTTF) 27 million people are currently being traded worldwide. It is believed that half of these individuals are children. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise after illicit drug trafficking, estimated to generate up to $150 billion in profits annually.
Alabama’s Interstate 20, which runs from Birmingham and Atlanta, was previously known as “Sex trafficking superhighway.” Last year, AHTTF estimated there were 6,000 trafficked people the victims per day in Alabama alone.
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