COPP researchers working to improve effectiveness of human trafficking investigations

Criminal Justice Professor and Chair Michael Smith and Criminal Justice Associate Professor and Associate Dean Robert Tillyer are conducting research to examine the strengths and weakness of current tools that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses in its human trafficking investigations. Researchers may be able to assist in its efforts to reduce human trafficking incidents and help victims.

stock photo of hands tied with rope

(May 31, 2018) — Human trafficking has emerged in recent years as an issue of national and international concern. Each year, millions of people worldwide are forced to work for little or no pay or exploited for sex. Estimates from the International Organization of Labor places the number of trafficked persons as high as 21 million worldwide, while the U.S. government estimates that 14,000 to 17,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.

UTSA professors Michael Smith and Robert Tillyer want to reverse that trend. They are conducting research to examine the analytical tools that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses in its human trafficking investigations and victim assistance efforts.

“ICE Homeland Security Investigations [HSI] is one of two federal law enforcement agencies charged with investigating human trafficking crimes. While the agency makes use of many different intelligence sources, we may be able to assist in its efforts by analyzing non-classified data sources to help improve the effectiveness or efficiency of human trafficking investigations or the provision of services to victims,” said Smith.

The researchers will be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the tools that ICE currently uses. Drawing on best practices from criminology and quantitative analytics, they will provide input to ICE about how to expand their toolbox to reduce human trafficking incidents and help victims.

In the first phase of the project, the UTSA researchers will begin to identify open source data maintained by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that could be leveraged to assist ICE HSI in its efforts to disrupt human trafficking. During this phase, the team will conduct interviews with law enforcement agencies, NGOs and other human trafficking stakeholders both in Texas and at stakeholders’ Washington, D.C. headquarters offices.

The project will conclude with a preliminary analysis plan to help ICE improve the targeting of offenders, organizations and money flow. The researchers will also provide additional resources to ICE victim support personnel in their efforts to help human trafficking victims.

– Ingrid Wright

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