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Former Intelligence Professionals Use AI To Uncover Human Trafficking

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Business-oriented publication Fast Company reports on recent AI developments designed to uncover human trafficking by analyzing online sex ads.

Kara Smith, a senior targeting analyst with DeliverFund, a group of former CIA, NSA, special forces, and law enforcement officers who collaborate with law enforcement to bust sex trafficking operations in the U.S. gave the publication an example of an ad she and her research colleagues analyzed. In the ad, Molly, a ‘new bunny’ in Atlanta supposedly “loves her job selling sex, domination, and striptease shows to men.”

In their analysis, Smith and her colleagues found clues that Molly is performing all these acts against her will. “For instance, she’s depicted in degrading positions, like hunched over on a bed with her rear end facing the camera.”

Smith adds other examples, like “bruises and bite marks are other telltale signs for some victims. So are tattoos that brand the women as the property of traffickers—crowns are popular images, as pimps often refer to themselves as “kings.” Photos with money being flashed around are other hallmarks of pimp showmanship.”

Until recently researchers like Smith had to spot markers like these manually. Then, approximately a year ago DeliverFund, her research group received an offer from a computer vision startup called XIX to automate the process with the use of AI.

As explained, “the company’s software scrapes images from sites used by sex traffickers and labels objects in images so experts like Smith can quickly search for and review suspect ads. Each sex ad contains an average of three photos, and XIX can scrape and analyze about 4,000 ads per minute, which is about the rate that new ones are posted online.”

After a relatively slow start in its first three years of operation, it only had three operatives, DeliverFund was able to uncover four pimps. But, after staffing up and starting its cooperation with XIX, in just the first nine months of 2019, “DeliverFund contributed to the arrests of 25 traffickers and 64 purchasers of underage sex. Over 50 victims were rescued in the process.” Among its accomplishments, it also provided assistance in the takedown of, “which had become the top place to advertise sex for hire—both by willing sex workers and by pimps trafficking victims.”

It is also noted that “XIX’s tool helps DeliverFund identify not only the victims of trafficking but also the traffickers. The online ads often feature personally identifiable information about the pimps themselves.”

The report explains that “XIX’s computer vision is a key tool in a digital workflow that DeliverFund uses to research abuse cases and compile what it calls intelligence reports.” Based on these reports, DeliverFund has provided intel to 63 different agencies across the U.S., but it also has a relationship with the attorney general’s offices of Montana, New Mexico, and Texas.

The organization also provides “free training to law officers on how to recognize and research abuse cases and use its digital tools. Participating agencies can research cases on their own and collaborate with other agencies, using a DeliverFund system called PATH (Platform for the Analysis and Targeting of Human Traffickers).”

According to the information of the Human Trafficking Institute, about half of trafficking victims worldwide are minors, and Smith ads that “the overwhelming majority of sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens.”


Former diplomat and translator for the UN, currently freelance journalist/writer/researcher, focusing on modern technology, artificial intelligence, and modern culture.