Deterring Sex Trafficking Demand with the Help of Technology

Recently, our CEO Julie Cordua and I attended a Demand Abolition and Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Network convening, which brought together over 150 police officers, prosecutors, survivor leaders and advocates all dedicated to reducing the demand for commercial sexual exploitation. We were excited to present on trends in the online sex marketplace, showcase Spotlight, our human trafficking investigations tool, and learn about new ways technology is being used to combat sex trafficking demand.

Thorn Presents Spotlight — Helping Law Enforcement Combat Sex Trafficking

Data is power. Visibility into which sites are being used most frequently to facilitate the sale of commercial sex can help law enforcement uncover any shifts in the marketplace and provide new leads for their investigations. With take downs of buyer forums, including The Review Board in King County, the goal is to stop sex trafficking demand and prosecute the individuals who are promoting it. However, for those still engaging in this illegal behavior and continuing to purchase sex, data can help us figure out which websites are being used for this purpose so that we can continue to hammer that message home. We were glad to speak to trends in the marketplace and spur the conversation for cities in the CEASE network to consider shifts in their local marketplaces.

We also had the opportunity to showcase Spotlight and continue on boarding new officers onto our human trafficking investigations tool, which currently stands at over 2,000 users. The Internet has made it easier for children to be bought and sold online and law enforcement doesn’t have enough time or resources to navigate the online commercial sex market to find these children and identify their traffickers. Spotlight takes the massive amount of data and turns it into an asset for law enforcement. Our tool leverages military-grade cognitive computing technology to help law enforcement prioritize leads using predictive algorithms, photo analysis and other advanced technologies. It is currently being used in 48 states plus the District of Columbia and reduces investigative time by 42%, allowing law enforcement to identify and assist more kids faster.

Technology Innovation to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand

Building upon their January hackathon, Demand Abolition is continuing to utilize the power of technology. From online deterrence interventions to helping identify high frequency buyers, Demand Abolition is paving the way for innovative solutions in multiple CEASE cities.

On the deterrence front, Demand Abolition has launched online deterrence efforts in 4 key cities. DA’s partners are communicating directly with individuals purchasing sex at the moment they are searching, and making them aware of the real harm that this causes victims and themselves. They also inform them of the consequences of buying sex, and encourage them to get help and make better choices. The volume of individuals purchasing sex is staggering and law enforcement cannot arrest their way out of this, which is why deterrence efforts aimed to change behavior are crucial to the movement to combat sex trafficking demand.

Finally, we were excited to hear about research efforts currently underway that will provide useful insight into who is purchasing sex and why, and the best approaches to get them to stop. Demand Abolition is already harnessing the power of technology to help identify high frequency buyers. If law enforcement can identify and arrest the individuals purchasing sex at an extremely high frequency, this will hopefully have a trickle down effect and discourage countless others from purchasing sex. Complimenting law enforcement efforts to target high frequency buyers with the deterrence campaigns and other initiatives, Demand Abolition and the CEASE Network is well on their way to decreasing the demand for paid sex in the US.


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