Data Science, Startups, and Sex Trafficking

What is Sex Trafficking?

It is a form of human trafficking and according to Wikipedia, human trafficking

is the trade in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others; or for the extraction of organs or tissues, including surrogacy and ova removal; or for providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery, and at any time more than 20 million people worldwide are victims (see the US Trafficking In Persons Report). Sex Trafficking is a specific form of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

What does this have to do with Data Science?

Well, data is being collected about victims of human trafficking and online advertisements targeting potential victims. Lots of data is being collected and not enough analysis is being done. Luckily, some organizations have teamed up to help fight human trafficking and sex slavery.

Startups like Palantir and SumAll are getting involved in the fight against human trafficking. Startups are not alone; governments and Universities are also getting involved.

  • Palantir is working with Google and Polaris, an organization focused on eliminating human slavery in the U.S. and globally, to coordinate efforts of local human trafficking hotlines. Together they created the Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network. See the latest update from Google Ideas.
  •, a non-profit spin-off of the startup, is an organization that provides data analytic capabilities to non-profit organizations making a social impact for good. One of the first projects of was Human Trafficking.
  • Rescue Forensics is a Y Combinator startup helping law enforcement collect online data to capture and prosecute human traffickers.
  • DARPA and Carnegie Mellon University are jointly working to use Natural Language Processing (NLP), computer vision, and machine learning to identify online ads used by sex traffickers.
  • Thorn is an organization that is specifically trying to stop the trafficking of children.
  • Even the Clinton Foundation is involved.

How can you get involved?

The issue of human trafficking is very complicated, and it will take many years and many people to solve. Therefore, it is a great time for you to get involved. Below are some organizations seeking volunteers

  • DataKind is an organization working to match up data scientists with data from non-profits. DataKind runs a number of data-dives/hackathons and special projects centered around using data science to help produce a positive global impact. Although DataKind works with a number of organizations and not all are focused on human trafficking, DataKind does work with a number of organizations that are fighting for global human rights. If you are interested in becoming involved with DataKind, please fill out the Get Involved Form. They are looking for volunteers regardless of your location.
  • is actively seeking volunteers and interns. They are seeking volunteers for data science, visualization, blogging, and KPI monitoring. Like DataKind, not all the projects are human trafficking, but they are focused on changing the world.
  • There are also many local organizations working to fight human trafficking. Find an organization near you via the Global Modern Slavery Directory.
  • Samaritan’s Purse, although not specifically seeking data volunteers, does a lot of work to combat human trafficking across the globe.

If you are a victim or have information about human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1 (888) 373-7888.

If you know of any other organizations working on data analysis of human trafficking, please leave a comment.


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