Human trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or obtaining of persons through force, fraud, and coercion for the purposes of exploitation. In the United States, the majority of documented human trafficking activities are related to sex trafficking. Since the early 2000s, traffickers have used the internet, particularly online classified advertisement sites, to facilitate their activities. In recent years, the number of active sites has expanded. In addition to an increased number of sites, scammers have also emerged that utilize fake ads in hopes of obtaining deposits from potential buyers with no intent of service provision. The increased number of sites increased prevalence of scammers, and the sheer volume of data makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to identify meaningful patterns in the data for the purposes of planning interdiction efforts.
The STANDD initiative is led by three IDA faculty affiliates, Drs. Nick Freeman, Greg Bott, and Burcu Keskin. The research team actively collaborates with law enforcement agencies at the local and federal levels and is piloting a web-based portal that authenticated agencies can use to access updated information regarding networks that are active in their area of jurisdiction. In addition to helping agents battling trafficking in the field, the initiative’s research is also generating broad insights regarding the evolution of online advertising approaches in the wake of several government-supported actions to combat the industry.