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Carnegie Mellon researchers develop software to help police detect prostitution websites


By David Schwartz
Published: February 4th, 2015

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed software that helps police departments investigate online ads that offer prostitution services.

Developed by a research team under Artur Dubrawski of CMU’S Robotics Institute, Traffic Jam is intended to expose sex traffickers who exploit disenfranchised female teenagers and women. The software gives police a rapid way to sort sex ads by highlighting indirect language that may suggest sex trafficking or grouping ads with similar language that may have been written by the same person.

Emily Kennedy, a research analyst at CMU’s Auton Lab where the software was developed, says more than 100 sites are commonly used in sex trafficking. “That creates a massive stream of data coming in,” says Kennedy. “If you are local law enforcement, using the data takes time. We realized that the quickest way to help victims was to support law enforcement.”

So far, more than 400 people within 35 agencies have trained to use Traffic Jam, including many in the Pittsburgh area where CMU is located. In 2013, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency gave the researchers a three-year $3.6 million grant to develop and test their software.

In one recent success story, police in Modesto, CA, used Traffic Jam to search for ads posted by an alleged sex trafficker they had in custody. Using the software’s search engine, Modesto Detective Darren Ruskamp said, he searched multiple websites at once using key terms. It identified places where the suspect had taken women to offer their services. He was convicted under federal laws prohibiting the transport of people across state lines for the sex trade, Ruskamp said.

“I’d searched for eight-plus hours,” Ruskamp said about individually scanning popular sites for evidence. Using Traffic Jam, however, “within about 10 seconds, I’d located numerous ads by him.”

Source: Trib Live News

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