Fact Sheet: Prevention of Sex Trafficking of Children

Image by Imagens Evangélicas via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.


The abhorrent practices of human slavery and forced prostitution and child labor still exist in the modern world of the twenty-first century. Under the general caption of ‘human trafficking’, the CCICADA research partners from the University of Southern California’s Information Science Institute and the Center for Human Trafficking at the Annenberg School for Communication have developed methods for reviewing and analyzing large social media communications and web posts to help identify potential cases of human trafficking.

Data Extraction

Many CCICADA partner researchers have been working on the analysis of  social media and other Internet-based communications formats. Techniques have and are being developed to take massive and diverse data sources to find patterns and anomalies. The recent advances use content and photo recognition methods to enhance information.

The project at USC to combat Human Trafficking focuses on finding underage prostitutes and working with law enforcement to eradicate the criminal entities. The researchers gather and combine a variety of Twitter and website posts (e.g., escort service websites or posted advertisements on venues such as craigslist and backpage). They identify patterns in posted advertisements, most consisting of non-trustworthy information such as false addresses or false ages, in order to identify what information can be trusted and suggest ways to trace those posting the information.

With the help of expert elicitations from leading law enforcement experts, the CCICADA researchers determine the specific data areas that give indication across sites that an individual who is being promoted as age-appropriate is indeed young and perhaps enslaved unwillingly.   Methods are used to help determine the likely ages of those identified and the team further investigates whether the photos obtained from the websites and Twitter or advertisement profiles are good enough to provide accurate age reconciliation information.

Law Enforcement and other Partners

The CCICADA researchers have worked in partnership with several law enforcement entities and other stakeholders on this project: State of California Office of the Attorney General; Los Angeles Police Department; Los Angeles Task Force on Human Trafficking (City of LA); the US Department of Justice; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; US Department of State; United Nations.

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