Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

New Research Grants Aim at Combating Human Trafficking

New Research Grants Aim at Combating Human Trafficking

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New Research Grants Aim at Combating Human Trafficking

In December 2011, Dr. danah boyd and I were pleased to announce an RFP (request for proposal), funded by the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Research, for projects that investigate the role of technology in the human trafficking of minors in the United States. In that announcement, we provided a framework for thinking about the intersections between technology and human trafficking. Today, June 13, 2012, I’m happy to announce that the recipients of these funds have been selected. After reviewing many promising proposals, we have allocated a total grant of US$185,000 among six proposals, each of which involves unique, imperative research. We are excited about the progress we expect to make in understanding the role of technology in human trafficking with the work of these amazing researchers. The recipients are:

  • Dr. Nicole Bryan, Dr. Ross Malaga, and Dr. Sasha Poucki of Montclair State University and Dr. Rachel Swaner of the Center for Court Innovation, for research on how networked technologies, including the Internet, mobile phones, and social media, are used by “johns” to procure children for sexual purposes.
  • Dr. Susan McIntyre of Calgary, Alberta; Dr. Dawne Clark of Mount Royal University; and Norm Lewis, research assistant at Mount Royal University, for research on the role of technology in the recruiting, buying, and selling of victims in the sex trafficking industry.
  • Professor Mary G. Leary of the Catholic University of America, for a comprehensive assessment of judicial opinions on child sex trafficking issued over the last 10 years.
  • Dr. Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, for research on technology’s role in facilitating child sex trafficking and understanding the benefits and obstacles for law enforcement.
  • Dr. Jennifer Musto of Rice University, for research on how law enforcement leverages the benefits—and overcomes the obstacles—of using technology in combating the trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Dr. Anna W. Shavers, Dr. Dwayne Ball, Professor Matt Waite, Professor Sriyani Tidball, and Dr. David Keck of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for research into identifying the clandestine language that is used in web advertising of child sex trafficking and conceptualizing intelligent software to identify such online advertisements.

Today, human trafficking stands the fastest growing criminal industry in the world; in fact, this form of modern-day slavery has the dubious distinction of ranking alongside the trade in illegal arms as the second-largest international criminal industry, trailing only drug dealing. The research funded by these grants is sorely needed.
 
It is very encouraging to see the significant actions taken against this heinous crime in the past year. Government agencies, NGOs, advocacy organizations, and corporations are working to increase awareness, research, and action in this area. One area all these organizations highlight is the need for more data and rigorous research on the extent of the human-trafficking problem, which includes understanding technology’s role in human trafficking. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of verifiable data on exactly how technology is abetting the crime—or how technology might be used to combat it.

The Microsoft Digital Crime Unit and Microsoft Research hope to make a difference by funding research that will yield valuable data about the role that technology plays in child sex trafficking, with the ultimate goal of developing new disruptive approaches and innovations to address the problem. As a technology service provider, Microsoft has a stake in ensuring that its technologies are not contributing to crime, particularly crimes against children. We hope to use the findings and insights from these projects to drive advancements in the fight against trafficking.

As the lead for Microsoft Research Connections’ initiative on Growing Women in Computing, I strongly believe that support of research into technology’s role in societal issues will excite a new generation of women about the potential of careers in computer science. Today, only approximately 1,800 women graduate from computer science programs in the United States; we need to inspire more young women to pursue careers in the field and make breakthroughs in areas that are relevant to women. Their research will not only help us understand how to begin addressing the crime of human trafficking, but will also inspire more young women to pursue careers where they can make a positive impact in society. These women will help us solve societal problems and use technology in ways we can’t imagine.

I want to congratulate the recipients cited above, and I look forward to building a rigorous academic community of social scientists, economists, business researchers, legal researchers, psychologists, and computer scientist to help solve the scourge of human trafficking.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Samantha Doerr, Public Affairs Manager, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit writes on the Microsoft on the

  • This is huge!  But why so little money?  It is amazing the amount of money we will invest in the tiniest of issues.  Here we are looking at human rights and we dole out what any one of these Dr's receiving the prize should be getting as an annual salary to be dedicated to this cause.  What a wonderful concept but I'm certain these folks could use more funding, perhaps Kickstarter.ORG is in need.

  • I did not see any mention of the Microsoft Child Exploitation Tracking System.  Why not?

  • Mark, thank you for bringing up the Child Exploitation Tracking System. The reason it isn’t mentioned is that we don’t consider it to be directly related to the topic at hand.  The human trafficking of minors and the use of technology in this arena is our focus. There is little research and information out there today to truly understand the magnitude of the problem and the goal of this research is to do that first. We are at the first step in the process and our hope is that once we are able to better understand this, then the work can be done to determine how to disrupt this behavior. -Microsoft Research Connections Team

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