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Debunking Conventional Wisdom: Using Online Escort Ads in Sex Trafficking Investigations

NCJ Number
305416
Journal
Police Chief Magazine Dated: October 2022
Author(s)
Kristina A. Lugo-Graulich; Leah F. Meyer; Karen Souza; Susannah N. Tapp; Bailey Maryfield; Lindsay Bostwick
Date Published
October 2022
Annotation

Law enforcement has long examined online escort advertisements to identify sex trafficking victims and investigate cases. These have included ads on websites such as Backpage, Craigslist, and MyRedbook—and, now, other more regional websites hosted offshore since the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) were passed and Backpage shut down in 2018. Searching online escort ads has been a common technique to proactively select cases for client (sex buyers or customers) or “john” sting operations or as part of investigating cases that began from a tip or other source. John stings have typically uncovered few victims compared to the number of ads searched and investigated. Some agencies have stopped doing these resource-intensive operations altogether for this reason.

 

Abstract

Recent research by the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA) points to one possible explanation: the indicators typically relied upon by officers as “red flags” for trafficking do not necessarily predict trafficking. Investigators have used and shared several languages, photos, and emoji indicators over the years to identify ads more likely to involve trafficking. Many came from sources such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which were then cited as definitive indicator lists in subsequent studies. However, the indicators had not been empirically tested against cases negative for trafficking to assess their true predictive power; rather, their accuracy was assumed. (Publisher abstract provided)

 

Date Published: October 1, 2022