University of Southern California USC

Introduction

On April 11, 2012, 26-year-old Marquist Piere Bradford—dubbed in the news media as the “Twitter Pimp”[1]—was arrested in Springfield, Illinois, for sex trafficking of children. Bradford reportedly used Facebook to communicate with a 15-year-old girl from Fresno, California.[2] According Bradford’s arrest warrant, the teenage girl had been consistently running away from an aunt’s home in Fresno and engaging in commercial sex involving pimps since she was 14.[3] Another minor, known as Princess, befriended the Fresno girl on Facebook and introduced her to Bradford. After several weeks of messaging via Facebook among the two minors and Bradford, he sent the Fresno girl a bus ticket with instructions to meet him in Sacramento.[4] Upon her arrival, Bradford began advertising her on various escort service websites, namely MyRedBook and VerifiedPlaymates, and trafficked her for two weeks throughout the San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose areas.[5] Bradford allegedly confiscated the minor’s mobile phone and provided her with a prepaid mobile phone. Bradford also utilized Facebook for recruitment of and communication with his victims, used prepaid mobile phones to arrange commercial sex sessions and transactions, posted advertisements on escort websites, and bragged about his exploits on Twitter.[6]

Our understanding of technology’s role in human trafficking, while improving, is still in its infancy. Technology, while clearly facilitating trafficking, also can be used as an effective tool to combat it. Evidence-based research that examines the two sides of this issue is imperative for leveraging technology and policy approaches to benefit the vulnerable populations being exploited though trafficking.

While much of the public discussion about sex trafficking and technology has focused on online classified ad sites such as Craigslist and Backpage, the case above and a host of others like it indicate that technology-facilitated trafficking may be more diffuse than current debates suggest. To be sure, a number of cases involving the sex trafficking of minors mention the role of escort websites and/or online classified ad sites.[7] Yet, many cases have surfaced from a variety of sources about the use of multiple media platforms to facilitate domestic minor sex trafficking, including reports of the recruitment of minors for commercial sex on mobile-based social networking applications, such as MocoSpace.[8] Other cases illustrate the use of low-tech mobile features such as text messaging and photo messaging to advertise minors to repeat “johns,” to coordinate meeting points and terms of the transaction, and to maintain constant communication with the victims.[9] Even the most popular online services are reportedly being exploited. Examples involve the use of mainstream social media sites like Facebook and gaming systems with social networking capabilities, such as Xbox Live, to make connections with minors, advertise minors for sex, record sexual videos and images of minors for advertising, and transfer payment for commercial sex with a minor.[10] More evidence-based research is needed to investigate the extent of technology’s evolving role in facilitating human trafficking. Research is also needed to understand how these emerging platforms can be leveraged to identify trafficking cases and to assist victims.

In 2011, the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) released a report examining the landscape of human trafficking online, particularly online classified ad sites and social networking sites. Evidence gathered for the report demonstrated that Internet technologies were being used to facilitate human trafficking, particularly the sex trafficking of minors.[11] The report also explored the potential of digital tools such as data mining, search analytics, and computational linguistics to combat human trafficking.[12] The CCLP 2011 report provided recommendations and guiding principles for stakeholders developing policy and technological interventions.[13]

The present report expands upon insights provided in 2011 and offers a snapshot of the most current research on technology and sex trafficking, with a specific focus on domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) in the United States. The past year has seen a notable increase in attention to technology and trafficking from the U.S. government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, academia, and individual citizens. This report provides an overview of these efforts and highlights our own primary research. A key finding is that mobile phones are playing a central role in trafficking, suggesting that technology-facilitated trafficking is becoming more diffuse and extending beyond specific online platforms such as online classified ad sites.

To demonstrate the centrality of technology-facilitated trafficking in general and the role of mobile phones in particular, this report presents primary research to explore these issues. This research includes a series of interviews with law enforcement and an analysis of phone numbers associated with online classified advertising. This report provides initial evidence to support the claim that technology-facilitated trafficking is more diffuse and adaptive than has been previously documented. The rise of the use of mobile phones in potential cases of DMST has important implications for future anti-trafficking interventions and policy recommendations.



[1]               Manuel-Logan, R. (April 5, 2012) Marquist Bradford, Twitter Pimp,  News One. Retrieved August 23, 2012, from newsone.com/2000964/marquist-bradford-twitter-pimp.

[2]     Ibid.

[3]               King Kutta Warrant (April 4, 2012) The Smoking Gun. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from www.thesmokinggun.com/file/king-kutta-warrant.

[4]               Ibid.

[5]               Manuel-Logan (April 5, 2012).

[6]               King Kutta Warrant (April 4, 2012), p. 9.

[7]               Man who aided kidnap victim “terrified” (July 28, 2010) KRQE News 13. Retrieved August 27, 2012, from www.krqe.com/dpp/news/crime/Man-who-aided-kidnap-victim-%27terrified%27.

[8]               3 arrested in Fort Worth human trafficking case (April 7, 2011) Fight Human Trafficking. Retrieved August 27, 2012, from fighthumantrafficking.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/3-arrested-in-fort-worth-human-trafficking-case-news-news-from-fort-worth-dallas-a.

[9]               Associated Press (June 26, 2012) 4 arrested in Florida foster child prostitution ring. Retrieved August 30, 2012, from www.ocala.com/article/20120626/WIRE/120629751?p=2&tc=pg.

[10]             Shively, M., Kliorys, K., Wheeler, K., & Hunt, D. (2012) National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, p. 19. Anderson, N. (January 10, 2012) CSI: Xbox—how cops perform Xbox Live stakeouts and console searches, Ars Technica. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/01/searches-and-xbox-live-stakeouts-how-cops-investigate-consoles. boyd, d., Casteel, H., Thakor, M., & Johnson, R. (2011) Human Trafficking and Technology: A framework for understanding the role of technology in the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S. Microsoft Research. Retrieved August 28, 2012, from

research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/focus/education/htframework-2011.pdf, p. 7.

[11]             Latonero, M. et al. (2011) Human Trafficking Online: The role of social networking sites and online classifieds. Los Angeles: USC Annenberg (hereinafter referred to as CCLP 2011 report), pp. 13–22.

[12]             Ibid., 23–30.

[13]             Ibid., 39.