Earlier this month, Florida became the first state to require schools to teach K-12 students about child trafficking prevention. The state ranks third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases, with 767 cases reported in 2018, nearly 20 percent of which involved minors.

A $150 billion industry

While Florida’s program will be the first targeted on youth education, awareness campaigns have become a critical component of the fight against this $150 billion industry, which impacts as many as 40.3 million people annually.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign is one example.  This national public awareness campaign is focused on increasing detection of human trafficking and identifying victims. 

Increasing detection of victims

The campaign works to educate the public, law enforcement and industry partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, and how to appropriately respond to possible cases.

According to DHS, among the potential indicators that a person might be a victim of human trafficking are:

  • Disconnection from family and friends
  • Dramatic and sudden changes in behavior
  • Disorientation and signs of abuse
  • Timid, fearful or submissive behavior
  • Signs of being denied food, water, sleep or medical care
  • Deference to someone in authority or the appearance of being coached on what to say

Finding the perpetrators

While potential indicators for victims are well documented, identifying the perpetrators is more difficult.

Law enforcement points to the fact that traffickers represent every social, ethnic, and racial group and are not only men—women run many established rings.

Cases have even revealed that traffickers are not necessarily always strangers to or casual acquaintances of the victims. Traffickers can be family members, intimate partners, and long-time friends of the victims.

With all these variables in finding the perpetrators, law enforcement is increasingly looking for tools to help this lucrative and subversive crime. 

“A rare window into criminal behavior”

One tool is the Internet, which provides traffickers with the unprecedented ability to exploit a greater number of victims and advertise services across geographic areas.  It is also a way to recruit victims, especially unsuspecting and vulnerable youth. 

As research conducted in 2011 at the University of Southern California found, online trafficking transactions “leave behind traces of user activity, providing a rare window into criminal behavior, techniques, and patterns.

“Every online communication between traffickers, ‘johns,’ and their victims reveals potentially actionable information for anti-trafficking investigators.”

The study noted the potential for integrating human experts and computer-assisted technologies like AI to detect trafficking online.

AI and human trafficking

Similar research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University looked at how low-level traffickers and organized transnational criminal networks used web sites like Craigslist and Backpage to advertise their victims. The researchers developed AI-based tools to find patterns in the hundreds of millions of online ads and help recover victims and find the bad actors.

Fast forward to today.

In February, the United Nations held a two-day conference focused on using AI to end modern slavery.

The conference brought together researchers, policy makers, social scientists, members of the tech community, and survivors.

One of those researchers – from Lehigh University – is working on a human trafficking project to help law enforcement overcome the challenges of turning vast amounts of data, primarily from police incident reports, into actionable intelligence to assist with their investigations.

Providing better alerts and real risks

Former Federal government officials share the optimism about the power of AI to aid law enforcement in weeding out the criminals and finding the victims.

Alma Angotti, a former U.S. regulation official for the Securities and Exchange Commission, points to the power of AI to highlight key indicators of trafficking from hundreds of thousands of sources, providing better alerts and more likely real risks.

“For example, law enforcement can look at young women of a certain age entering the country from certain high-risk jurisdictions. Marry that up with social media and young people missing from home, or people associated with a false employment agency or who think they are getting a nanny job, and you start to develop a complete picture. And the information can be brought up all at once, rather than an analyst having to go through the Dark Web.”

To report suspected human trafficking to Federal law enforcement, call 1-866-347-2423.

To get help from the National Trafficking Hotline call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733).

Learn more about AI-powered Radiance and its risk sensing capabilities for issues like human trafficking.