Modeling Effective Network Disruptions for Human Trafficking

Kayse Lee Maass

Assistant Professor Kayse Lee Maass (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, COE) is a co-principal investigator on a five-year $1M National Science Foundation grant titled “Modeling Effective Network Disruptions for Human Trafficking.” The interdisciplinary award is in collaboration with academics from Clemson University (lead), University of Minnesota, and RTI International. It also involves partners from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a survivor advisory board consisting of representatives from The Family Partnership’s PRIDE program, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, and several independent survivor-consultants.

This research seeks to better understand how to more effectively disrupt trafficking operations within commercial sex markets rather than simply displace the operations from one location to another. Through a transdisciplinary approach consisting of operations research, qualitative research, and community-based participatory research, the team will study how traffickers adapt to disruptions and how sex trafficking intersects with other types of criminal activities. This knowledge will then be used to develop advanced network interdiction models that will help identify unintended consequences of various sex trafficking disruption tactics as well as the tactics that are effective from multiple stakeholder perspectives.

Abstract Source NSF

This Disrupting Operations of Illicit Supply Networks (D-ISN) project will enhance national health, prosperity and welfare by contributing new knowledge on how to best disrupt and dismantle, rather than simply displace, illicit sex trafficking networks. Sex trafficking is a human rights abuse and uses highly exploitative and often violent means to control victims. These illicit networks are supported by complex and agile criminal enterprises that coerce victims to perform other criminal activities, such as committing theft or selling illegal drugs, to enhance the commercial viability of the enterprise. The project is expected to support insight into both how these networks operate and how they dynamically react to interventions in order to ensure that (i) interventions truly disrupt and dismantle the operations and (ii) interventions target the operators and not the victims of the network. This project combines semi-structured mixed methods qualitative research and operations research, specifically network interdiction models, with input from a survivor-centered advisory group and a human trafficking investigative task force in order to model effective network disruptions for human trafficking. The expertise of these non-academic groups will help ensure that our research captures the consequences, both intended and unintended, that targeted interventions have on sex trafficking operators and victims in order to understand what constitutes an effective disruption.

This project will build new network interdiction models based on qualitative data gleaned from investigative case files as well as input from an advisory group whose members have first-hand knowledge of how trafficking networks respond to various disruption tactics. The results of the network interdiction models will be validated through qualitative research with knowledgeable stakeholders (e.g. survivors, law enforcement, traffickers, and advocates). This research will contribute to our knowledge about sex trafficking networks by understanding how they react to potential disruptions and how sex trafficking victims are forced to conduct other illicit activities. It will contribute to the network interdiction literature by examining problems where the trafficker(s) react to disruptions prior to operating their network. The project will also investigate how critical infrastructure for financial flows and communications supports different criminal activities involved in sex trafficking networks. The results of the research will be communicated to organizations serving sex trafficking victims and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force. The policy implications of this research will help identify unintended consequences of various sex trafficking disruption tactics as well as the tactics that are effective from multiple stakeholder perspectives.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts

Related Faculty: Kayse Lee Maass

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering