Uncovering human trafficking networks through text analysis
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery affecting an estimated 40 million victims worldwide, primarily through the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. In the last decade, the advertising of victims has moved from the streets to websites on the Internet, providing greater efficiency and anonymity for sex traffickers. This shift has allowed traffickers to list their victims in multiple geographic areas simultaneously, while also improving operational security by using multiple methods of electronic communication with buyers; complicating the ability of law enforcement to disrupt these illicit organizations. In this presentation, we present a novel unsupervised template matching algorithm for analyzing and detecting complex organizations operating on adult service websites. We apply this method to a large corpus of adult service advertisements retrieved from backpage.com, and show that the networks identified through the algorithm match well with surrogate truth data derived from phone number networks in the same corpus. Further exploration of the results show that the proposed method provides deeper insights into the complex structures of sex trafficking organizations, not possible through networks derived from phone numbers alone. This method provides a powerful new capability for law enforcement to more completely identify and gather evidence about trafficking operations