Data analysis is allowing us to acquire knowledge at a rapid pace and analysts are finding new ways to use that information. Gaining momentum among business experts is using analytics and data to solve social problems such as human trafficking. Teaming up with professionals from law enforcement, human rights advocates, and others, this new approach is picking up steam. While this mashup of professions might seem like an unlikely assemblage of different skills sets, it’s creating excitement and hope for those seeking to help potential victims and survivors of human trafficking.
A Complex Problem with Deeply Hidden Networks
Viewed from a business perspective, human trafficking can be seen as a supply chain in which victims are moved through a network to be used for cheap and illegal activities. Unraveling these complicated networks and supply chains takes high-level analytical skills, a bit of sleuthing, and a passion for understanding contextual settings.
According to Renata Konrad, associate professor of business at WPI, “Complicated by privacy laws, cultural nuances, and international challenges—including variations in law enforcement tactics—the challenge of combating human trafficking is a daunting one. But, we are researching new methods that will help victims.”
The problem is receiving assistance from an unlikely source—experts in business analytics who are trained in supply chains, detecting trends, and understanding how to track down elusive information. Traditionally, exposing the convoluted and secretive activities that comprise a human trafficking supply chain requires a lot of manual work. While it remains labor-intensive, the work is being accelerated as business analysts team up with other disciplines to uncover these nefarious illegal networks.
Interdisciplinary teams composed of criminologists, computer and data scientists, geographers, law enforcement, public health professionals, and others are becoming part of the solution. Each brings a unique set of skills that contributes a piece of the puzzle that, when fit together, can significantly reduce the number of human trafficking activities.
People at Risk and How to Find Them
To circumvent trafficking at its core, data can identify populations most at risk and assist with design prevention campaigns that help stop the illegal actors in their tracks.
Trafficking networks are dynamic and the current resources available are not robust enough to keep up with the frequent changes in tactics and operating locales designed to keep law enforcement from catching up to them. While traffickers make great efforts to operate off the grid and under the radar, in many cases there is a data trail that, with analysis, can be used to locate and disrupt the operation.
Traffickers often target their victims by promising jobs, marriage, money, and other false offers as a way to recruit unsuspecting or desperate people into their network. These fraudulent recruitment methods aim to attract those with financial or romantic desires and traffickers know where to find them. To thwart the success of such tactics, data can help identify economically depressed areas along with online and physical locations where those looking for opportunities become ensnared in these schemes.
In operations research, mathematical methods are used to answer complex questions about patterns in data, evaluate alternatives, recommend solutions, and predict future trends or behaviors. The same methods can be applied to finding and eradicating human trafficking networks. These analytical tools, combined with open-source data, can help determine the locations and communities that are most vulnerable and help law enforcement break up illegal activities or prevent them altogether.
Both open-source data, such as that found on social media and internet sites, and proprietary information that uncovers cash rather than credit card transactions, unusual patterns of healthcare utilization, unusual transportation activities, atypical purchasing, helps identify victims and their perpetrators. Tracking activities associated with conventions, sporting events, and other large gatherings can also lead to clues about trafficking networks.
Disrupting and Stopping the Trafficking Requires a Unique and Specific Skill Set
Business students seeking career options would do well to look for a degree program such as the master’s in business analytics program offered by Worcester Polytechnic Institute that takes an interdisciplinary approach to classroom instruction and provides real-life experience for the practical implications and use of analytics to solve real-world problems.
Multidisciplinary Learning Environments Key to Career Options
Today’s business students want an education that prepares them for a successful career and that also provides an opportunity to give back.
“Students with solid analytical skills and a passion for social justice have been eager to take on this challenge,” says Konrad. “It’s like solving a riddle with just a fraction of the information necessary and, in the process, helping survivors.”
For students and business professionals who also want to use their analytical skills for social justice, WPI offers a superior education in business analytics along with an opportunity to experience other uses. The intersection of business, science and human rights is a learning experience that exposes students to a variety of opportunities that prepare them for a career with choices.
The Business School at WPI is grounded in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and integrates these elements into its graduate programs. Students receive a world-class education that prepares them to lead at the intersection of technology and business. A project-based approach to learning and doing informs our curriculum that considers the ethical and social context of everything we do. Our students take advantage of the university’s strong relationships with technology-intensive organizations around the world.