How SAS uses analytics to uncover intelligence for the fight to halt human trafficking

Wed, 2017-05-24 09:33 -- Compassionate C...

There are international standards, there are laws, there are task forces and there are thousands of law enforcement officers trained to handle human trafficking cases. Yet it persists. The Polaris Project suggests nearly 30 million men, women and children are victims worldwide. And the money perpetrators pocket continues to grow. Can technology help stop this exploitation? As you’ll read below, there's reason to hope it can. – Liz Enbysk


As a post on the SAS site points out, human trafficking has many faces today. Men lured from Mexico and Central America with the promise of high paying agriculture jobs in the U.S. – then treated like slaves when they get here. Women and girls forced into sex work. Young children paid just a few dollars a month to cook, clean and wash for families nonstop, with no rest even on weekends.

But implementing the laws, identifying victims and jailing the perpetrators has proven a challenge. Today organizations supporting the Data for Good movement, such as SAS and Peace-Work, are taking on that challenge, applying sophisticated analytics to the task. Peace-Work is a nonprofit that deploys teams of data scientists, statisticians and other researchers who use their analytics skills to address pressing problems. SAS is a global leader in innovative analytics, business intelligence and data management software and services.

How can analytics help?
In one initiative, Peace-Work investigators with access to SAS Analytics software analyzed data sets across multiple states and uncovered a variety of factors associated with human trafficking, such as home foreclosure rates and areas with large income disparities.  They also uncovered a surprising correlation between the degree of slavery in a location in 1860 to human trafficking today. 

Next they looked at the factors across metro regions and found 18 where human trafficking rates were likely high. Law enforcement, it turns out, knew about 10 of them but the other eight they did not.

SAS, meanwhile, sponsored a project to make information buried in the 200 or so text reports the State Department publishes annually about human trafficking in various countries more accessible to those fighting it.

“Previously, organizations interested in taking advantage of these reports would have to read through them to get a hunch about the issues and trends they contained,” explains Tom Sabo, a Principal Solutions Architect at SAS.

“Our goal was to surface useful data that could help advocacy groups or overseeing agencies better determine where to focus anti-trafficking efforts,” Sabo continues. “We used text analytics to comb through all the Trafficking in Persons reports since 2013 and identify patterns that were not apparent previously. We then created visualizations to make the information highly accessible.”

Related article:
New Microsoft, UN partnership will focus on tech's role in tackling human rights challenges

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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