Cowritten by HASTS PhD students Amy Johnson and Rebecca Perry, with help from Shreeharsh Kelkar; video by Lan Li; this workshop occurred on April 26, 2013.

The final session of the MIT Sex Trafficking & Technology Workshop. Video of Session 2 here and below.


Virginia Greiman (Ginny)

Abigail Judge


Manduhai Buyandelger

Mitali Thakor introduces Manduhai, who is teaching a class this semester on trafficking.  Manduhai welcomes everyone and thanks Mitali for singlehandedly organizing this workshop. She introduces Ginny and Abigail.

Ginny Greiman describes herself as a lawyer, but not a lawyer’s lawyer. She looks at problems as business problems. How does one stop a very lucrative business? A young girl can generate $15,000 a day. How does one stop the demand?

Most of Ginny’s work has focused on international development, but her work in computer crime, cyberlaw, and international development led to interest in trafficking.

She presented on cybertrafficking at the International Conference on Information Warfare 2013, not expecting much interest. However, the room was full of men who came to the session out of curiosity about cybertrafficking. Their questions produced enough ideas to create a book.

Drawing on her work with the FBI and the Police Directorate in London, she asks, What is wrong with our investigations? Why does cybertrafficking flourish, why does it continue as a lucrative business? And how can private sector/government partner to fix this? She challenges students to develop tools to help youth stay safe. Mobile phones and other forms of technology are used to grab victims -- but “now we’re going to use technology to grab them.”

We don’t have any US statutes linking cybertrafficking with human trafficking, “They just don’t come together -- that’s amazing.” We’re not going to get there by the law alone. Law moves like a snail.

But with the use of the cloud, how do we get our hands on the evidence? There’s a tension between materials that exist in the cloud and activities on the earth that complicates this issue.

What is cybertrafficking?

Cybertrafficking is “the transport of persons by means of a computer system, internet service, mobile phone, local bulletin board service, or any device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to coerce, deceive, with or without consent for the purpose of “exploitation.”

It involves travel, movement, placement, and advertising; there are elements of exploitation, sexual and forced labor, and slavery or something similar. Recruitment or advertising is sufficient -- a victim doesn’t have to be physically moved. Transport can occur electronically, via computer system, internet server, mobile phone.

The State Department talks about using social media to recruit victims. Craigslist’s closure of adult services in 2010 generated much discussion. Law enforcement asked, how we are going to catch people with no advertising? Law enforcement follows crime wherever it goes.

There’s as well as many other sites you can go to. Some sites can’t be mentioned because this session is being recorded. Traffickers get on these sites and build a community. Google identifies 5,000 websites affiliated with sex trafficking.

Worldwide, reverse stings are the most common tactic used to tackle cybertrafficking. A fictional young girl will arrange a meeting with a perpetrator; law enforcement then meets the perps.

The Australian Institute of Technology says social networking sites groom children to want to participate. This behavior is happening everywhere, on all social media sites, and now even on mobile phones.

According to a Shared Hope International Report, “technology has become the single greatest facilitator of the commercial sex trade.”

Microsoft research is partnering with law enforcement efforts. Among other things, this research examines the online behavior of johns, the impact of technology on the demand for child sex trafficking, ways in which judges and law enforcement understand technology, the language of cybertrafficking, and the role of technology in improving services.

She offers some key research questions and encourages us to generate more:

  1. How has technology disrupted the trafficking of persons in the US?
  2. How has technology altered the power dynamics?
  3. How has the anti-trafficking network responded through the mobilization of certain actors?
  4. How do different constituent groups understand the role of technology in human trafficking?
Google and Microsoft, Intel and Apple all have great access to data, but data is hard to get because of technology laws. Many questions remain: How is technology being used? Are perpetrators or law enforcement gaining greater power?

Microsoft and Mark Latonero at the USC Annenberg School of Communication are studying anti-trafficking networks, asking questions like, How do different groups understand the role of technology? Are there more human trafficking victims as a result of technology or not? We don’t have good data on this.

There’s a lot of legislation; she highlights a few examples.

First, state law matters. Although these laws are of recent origin, state laws positively impact the rate at which sex trafficking victims are at least identified. Every state except for Wyoming recognizes human trafficking (but not cybertrafficking yet) as a crime. Penalties are very severe.

In Massachusetts, for example, a human trafficking conviction can yield life in prison. In Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota, perpetrators can get life imprisonment without parole. In New Jersey, human trafficking is a crime of the first degree and people can get 20 years without parole just for receiving anything of value. This could include a financier, a manager, a supervisor. This approach targets the business of human trafficking.

We also have statutes that assist tracking victims through technology. Maryland and Vermont require state departments of labor to post national human trafficking hotline info on their websites. Some states require businesses to post this as well. California, through its Supply Chain Act requires businesses to post on their websites notification of measures they have taken to eliminate human trafficking. Again, this is looking at it as a business.

Many states have child enticement statutes that draw on the use of technology in sexual exploitation. Technology is starting to be linked more and more to enticement. Alabama has a statute that looks at sexual performance on the internet; other states have similar provisions. In 2003 Texas became one of the first states to criminalize human trafficking. In MA we now have a dedicated position for dealing with trafficking.

Some states can prosecute you even when nothing happened in the state -- extrajudicial jurisdiction. Some states have statutes that allow prosecution provided some element happens within the state.

So what would a model statute look like?

First, we need to start with a definition of cybertrafficking. And remember, many of the people involved are pillars of the community. They don’t want stricter laws because they would hurt their own businesses and stature. We need rights, defenses, and protections afforded to victims. There should be no burden on the prosecutor to prove the perpetrator knew the victim was a minor. We need to think, too, about what evidence is admissible in court. We don’t want mandatory reporting, because we may be accusing people who are innocent.

She closes saying that we need to get people talking about this. We need to connect it with the internet. There are investigatory problems, problems with judges: if you do something on the internet, there’s no way to prove it involved a human being. “On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.”
Abigail Judge opens by explaining that although she will often say simply “girls” here, her remarks apply to both boys and girls. She will be discussing formal systems and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

First, involvement in CSEC is not necessarily linked to mental health issues, many factors are involved. We need to look at victim vulnerability and the effects of crimes through the lens of CSEC to clarify the issues/problems.

Abigail has treated teens and children, but when she started to work with kids affected by CSEC, she realized she didn’t have a good lens with which to view these kids. She has also worked as a forensic psychologist and investigated how specific conditions are thought of and how participants differ in how they testify for the courts. They might ask, Why is this girl running away, why is she involved? But yet, the courts seldom heard testimony from a child. Although some behavior was ambiguous, when looked at through the lens of CSEC, it became clearer what was going on. Reinterpreting behavior in the light of CSEC changed the picture.

She now offers us a psychological perspective on the phenomena and examines how the effects of technology may overlay the complex phenomenon of self-disclosure. It’s important to remember that this is a system; responses from each sector affects others.

What makes self-disclosure or identification of victims such a complex process?

It’s not merely the psychological effects, there’s also a lack of shared language. Often the different sectors are working under different definitions.

Psychological adaptation to trauma results in identification with one’s exploiter, traumatic bonding and the denial of harm  (Herman 1992 Farley 2013 Reid & Jones 2011).

For example, she discusses the case of decades of administrative cover up of abuse at Horace Mann and describes how deep attachment can also be involved even with exploitation, She quotes one of the victims explaining that he didn’t want to get rid of a gift given by an exploiter.

Similarly, removing tattoos made by perpetrators on victims can be complicated for victims, even adults.

She mentions Tiger Tiger, a memoir on sexual abuse. The author was an 8-year-old girl when one of her neighbors started grooming her for exploitation. The perpetrator cultivated the idea of romance to justify the crime. Some behaviors are puzzling to those unfamiliar with CSEC, these may be statements made by victims or even professional witnesses on the stand. Courts need education.

She discusses a case in Fairfax, Virginia, US v. Strom. MJ was a 17-year old female; her Facebook page described her as in a relationship with her pimp. And yet, she told investigators she did not need help, that she was living the life she chose. She recanted when interviewed; but there was a digital artifact, a Facebook page, with messages, assertion that she loves what she does. Complicated issues. What does this look like with CSEC? The CSEC view shows that many seemingly inexplicable behaviors are really adaptations to trauma.

Running away, children lose beds in group homes, makes it more complicated. She references a 2010 study by Halter, other sources including Hopper & Hidalgo, 2008; Priebe & Suhr, 2005; SHI, 2008.

How does technology affect an already complicated psychological process for victims? This is a virtually uncharted domain.

However, we know that being depicted in this way can actually inhibit kids from disclosure because it can increase feelings of complicity/guilt. When researchers in the UK asked kids why they didn’t speak out about the abuse, kids expressed a sensation that they had somehow participated in the process -- for example, because they were made to smile. There are also psychological effects when abused children are made to exploit other children or serve as recruiters.

Knowing that the past is the past and staying grounded in the present becomes very difficult when there is a recurring image.

Returning to the effects of technology on these psychological factors, technology is a double-edged sword. There may be similarities with the so-called mainstreaming of pornography, with both good and bad elements.

Research suggests that internet facilitation makes law enforcement agencies more likely to see CSEC kids as victims. Technological mediation here affects perspective and understanding of the phenomenon.

She discusses Melissa Farley’s argument that the blurring of boundaries in online spaces may be particularly pernicious; in particular, with regard to the encouragement of sexualized behaviors in girls. However, we need more research.

She finishes by saying that, given the attachment dynamics she has discussed, what Lisa noted about the effects of a transformational relationship are exactly correct. It is these relationships that we need more research about.
Manduhai Buyandelger points out that the processes of trafficking are multidisciplinary, with different languages that don’t necessarily translate into one another. Language is key.

The language of law, for example: abducting and extortion. How can we translate this for children -- how can we educate 10-12 year old children in a language they understand? In the world of child victims, this can translate as “saving, loving, caring.” How can we help the children understand that these boundaries are permeable, that what they see as love can be abuse?

Denial, brainwashing, exploitation -- do these terms translate into a language children can understand? And how do service providers, law enforcement, legal professionals understand them?

A 15-year old describing her abuse may seem detached. Her tone may confuse law officials; as a result she may not receive sympathy or understanding.

How do the police understand the language of the child, of the medical professional? How do they get into the same world? These groups speak different languages. The sociocultural aspects of language are important as well. There can be stigma and baggage attached based on cultural values, gender values, etc.

Manduhai reminds us that technology is a double-edged sword. Technology is nothing until someone uses it. Facebook is a tool. YouTube acquires different meanings depending on how it is used.

There’s a need to stop thinking of trafficking as occurring only between perpetrators and victims, to look into the impact of the business more broadly, to look into the people who are connected to the system but are unaware or in denial of their connections. There’s a need to increase penalties and decrease funding sources.

Technology is both tangible and not -- we need to widen and abstract the definition of technology. As we do, technology becomes an important center, revealing the agents behind it.


Abigail says that we need to empower girls to recognize recruitment when it happens. It’s very complicated.

Manduhai adds that community building is also an important part of the solution.

Ginny explains that she’s working with the FBI to educate very young children. Language is part of the problem -- as an anthropologist Manduhai articulated it. We could use more ways of getting us to talk the same language, use the same terms.

Q. With regard to Virginia’’s remarks on the business model, I worked as psychotherapist with people with multiple personalities. There’s an economist studying internationalization after the fall of the Soviet Union, who examines money laundering and the oligarchs who are appropriating the wealth of the former communist countries. These are highways where trafficking occurs. I still have a question about the missing language, the voice missing from our conversation. Is there some integrated way of looking at these issues?

Ginny explains that there isn’t really anything out there. The US State Department has some numbers, and the UN has offered some statistics through UNICEF, but there’s no government structure to address this.

Sarbanes-Oxley required CEOs to be accountable for financial information they were putting out--this was a change in financial regulation. There’s no comparable structure for trafficking reporting. We haven’t come together uniformly like we have for other crimes -- for example, drug trafficking. We don’t agree, we have different privacy laws. This is a difficult hurdle. People need to come together, start to focus on it.

Abigail adds that there has to be a community-based or collective element, too.

An audience member recommends a book called Pornland by Gail Dines, which discusses the effects on boys of seeing porn on the internet. Research shows some of these boys thought women enjoyed prostitution.

Manduhai says it is important to improve communication; tracking, reaching out... But we should also talk about technology in general -- the technology that produces images, not just the technology that produces relationships. The media perhaps doesn’t want to engage with this. Rather, it often glorifies anything related to sex and prostitution. Media representations often portray prostitutes as beautiful women, with appealing lifestyles. This affects young children’s understanding.

Abigail references the controversy a while ago about a how-to-be-a-pedophile book on Amazon (probably The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure); and yet, on Amazon there are many books on pimpology and how to recruit girls.

Ginny argues that we need more examination on what is allowing this to flourish. It is a flourishing industry.

Mitali ends session 2 there, thanking everyone.
Written by HASTS PhD students Lauren Kapsalakis and Shreeharsh Kelkar, with assistance from Rebecca Perry and Amy Johnson; photography and video by Lan Li; workshop occurred on April 26, 2013.

Session 1 of the MIT Sex Trafficking & Technology Workshop.

Lisa Goldblatt Grace

Mary G. Leary


Kim Surkan

Mitali introduces Lisa and Mary. Lisa works with vulnerable young people in a variety of capacities. She has also consulted with government on issues of trafficking and published extensively on these issues both academically and in the media. Mary was a prosecutor and has worked with a focus on family violence, sexual assault.

Kim invites the panelists to make introductory remarks. Lisa Goldblatt Grace asks, what is high-tech and low-tech in the world of trafficking and anti-trafficking? She began her work in response to the death of a young woman in Boston, co-founding a program with a variety of services that is gender specific space and sex industry survivor led, so survivor voice is loudest in the movement. She has a personal connection to this problem, as her partner is a survivor of the sex industry. Her work with My Life My Choice at JRI supports women and girls as they recover. Wherever they go, the organization will follow them with support through a survivor mentoring system that pairs each girl with a survivor mentor for one-on-one support.

What is the high-tech reality of trafficking? It takes many forms: in recruiting (through Facebook), surveillance through cellphones, ready access to porn and the anonymity that the online world offers. Many girls get recruited into the sex industry through the internet.

While pimps continue to recruit face-to-face -- for example, hanging out at bus terminals, looking for girls who have no place to go -- there is now an additional method of recruiting: through sites like Facebook and Backpage. Almost 50% of the girls My Life My Choice has helped in the last year met the perpetrator through Facebook. Cellphones are another way of recruiting, especially considering that all adolescents usually have a cellphone. Cellphones serve as gifts, but also as a means of tracking. Technology has increased the ways that these vulnerable girls are surveilled.  

This is “not our grandparents’ porn,” but a whole different way of commodifying people, particularly girls.

Lisa now offers concrete examples; these are survivors who have given her permission to use their story. Lisa shows photographs, taken by survivors, to illustrate the situation.

Maria’s experience of trafficking started when she began living with her friend and his mother  The mother then forced her into prostitution, arguing that Maria needed to “pay her back.” This was a low-tech recruitment.  

Laura grew up in an all-white suburb.  She wound up in a group home and then became friends with an older girl, took a trip, and got recruited into prostitution in Connecticut. This was a high-tech recruitment, in which social media played a role.  

Barbara’s photo portrays her as a typical teen. She wouldn't meet the full sexual exploitation definition; although her learning disability prevented her from forming relationships in real life, on Facebook she became involved in a compromising position with an older man who visited her.

Sarah was working part-time and her boss first got her addicted to heroin. A low-tech recruitment.  

Lisa argues that there are certain “high-tech missteps” that we take even today. For example, we still frame concerns about online acquaintances as “stranger danger” -- be careful, there are creepy old men out there. But when we’re dealing with Facebook, the person becomes a “friend” even though you don’t know the person at all. It becomes a different social category.

She talks about an experience with teenagers; they all told her they knew not to take off with creepy old men. But the handsome young men or women who become their friends on Facebook are another story.

The second mistake is that we think we can just eliminate the technology or stop access to it.  You can’t simply eliminate technology, you need to teach how to navigate it.

Finally, high-tech dangers require hi-tech responses. When girls go missing, one recovery challenge is that sometimes girls get brought back into trafficking. Facebook can be used to help find people. Status updates on Facebook, for example, like “chilling in JP” allow the organization to help find people.

Helping girls requires instrumental use of technology.  We can use technology to stay connected with them, help them seek support, and even to build prosecutions. Things like social media help law enforcement target demand through online stings instead of traditional undercover methods. Technology leaves a trail.

But Lisa sees the most important piece actually as actually the low-tech. The key is to build relationships with these girls, and this is essentially a low-tech thing but it is key to ending exploitation. Service workers need to replace the same things that pimps offer -- love, community, fun -- by building a community with the girls.
Mary Grace Leary talks today about “Child Sex Trafficking Technology, Definitions, and Dynamism”; her emphasis is on criminal law and public policy, her area of expertise.  

Mary asks, what is the future of this movement? Is it going to peak? Is it going to keep moving? This is a critical period. Human trafficking causes a “broad swath of victimization.”

She, too, draws attention to language and the importance of language in this discourse.

Her work is “legal, not empirical.” She and her students have reviewed all federal child sex trafficking cases since the passage of TVPA. She suggests that studying these cases gives us an idea of the kinds of scenarios that one encounters in child-sex trafficking. Technology is complicating the scenarios of child-sex trafficking and this is something that analysts need to pay attention to. Her thesis is that defining child sex trafficking is difficult because technology is expanding its boundaries which demands a review of legal and public policy. There are statues on the books, fairly clearly written as far as statues go, but definitions remain problematic.

She draws a parallel to defining what a “terrorist” is. How you use a label is going to have implications on public policy. Language matters. In the US we use “child pornography” labels, in Europe they use “images of child abuse and exploitation”

How does the TVPA define child-sex trafficking? Sex trafficking is what is associated with “commercial sex acts.” International law stresses “exploitation” which is not related to the conventional understanding of prostitution. In Massachusetts, the focus is not on targeting prostitutes but on those who drive the industry. For children, this becomes people who “entice” them “by any means.” She asks: Is this too broad or too narrow a definition of trafficking? Does it correspond to empirical realities?  She suggests that it is too broad. When she looks at the first circuit, there are only 7 child trafficking cases, but if one searches for child pornogrpahy cases, the number expands dramatically.  

TVPA doesn’t require force or coercion, just that something of value is exchanged regarding a minor. This is very broad, involves enticement.

Defining child sex trafficking as when anyone entices a minor to engage in sex act where anything of value is exchanged with anyone has ramifications. She used this broad definition in her study because in criminal law sometimes things that we would normally understand as child sex trafficking will be charged under another name so that underage victims might not have to testify.  

But consider this definition. Is this really what child sex trafficking is in the US? If so, that dramatically expands our notion of child sex trafficking. Federal laws are inadequate, no comprehensive laws exist in the US to address this. If you look at expanded categories of crime, the numbers of sexual exploitation and trafficking increase.

What is “something of value”? What is a “sex act”? What if a perpetrator sends out a picture of him or herself? The exchange of gifts is often important, part of “grooming” the victim, with perpetrators requesting images from victims to use later as blackmail.

She offers an example: In United States v. Davila Sanchez (1st Cir. 2006), a man was stopped at an airport with film of him assaulting a minor. The charge was child pornography but it appears to be child sex trafficking.

How has technology changed the picture?  Well for one thing, enticement is now possible online.  

She offers chatroom interactions as an example, perhaps dated but still being processed in the courts, with chatrooms as sites for exchange.

Craigslist has also been used to locate victims. US vs Berk is an example of craigslist used in reverse -- not for advertising services but for searching posts for recruitment opportunities. In this case, a desperate father who posted about his need for work was contacted by an offender, in hopes of luring the father into a trafficking scheme.

In US vs Lenz, a 26 year old met a 15 year old in an online game. Blizzard, the company that created World of Warcraft, had transcripts of their messages. He said he was trying to rescue her, but the messages belied that.

Mary offers some concluding remarks: It is very tempting and moral to have a broad idea of what child sex trafficking is, but we need to be careful not to dilute what human sex trafficking means in its initial definition. Overwhelmingly, the cases in court tend to focus on child pornography.  

The Department of Justice reports that in numbers of cases, sexual exploitation has shifted from abuse to pornography. This means that where we saw crime before, we now see something different. But how has this played out in courts? Courts are moving away from the guidelines for pornography, moving away from the mandatory minimum sentences. By extending what child pornography means, we may have invited a backlash from the courts. She cites another scholar who asks: by concentrating on sites like Craigslist, is law enforcement missing critical opportunities? A wide definition makes absolute sense for educational purposes -- to educate parents and law enforcement -- but it may not be good for actual prosecution. It may result in us going after low-hanging fruit rather than actual instances of real exploitation.   
Discussant Kim Surkan begins her remarks. She thanks the two speakers for bringing such different viewpoints to the table and suggests that questions of surveillance are also important to consider here.

The surveillance of old was done by technology that wasn’t owned by everyone; there were gatekeepers of some kind. E.g., only the police could access certain records (think: file cards, fingerprinting).

But today every single person carries this kind of recording technology in their pocket. Your phone now has functionalities for recording, geolocation, and with some apps, knowledge of where you are in relation to different people. This has shifted the picture in the debate.

This is not just relevant to the technological capabilities of victims or witnesses, but also perpetrators. Thus, for example, in the Steubenville rape case a lot of the evidence used in the trials was recorded by the perpetrators themselves.

What do you do when youth culture is so incredibly embedded in and wedded to technology?

An abolition approach will not work -- we can’t just restrict technology. How can we enlist the use of technology in the solution? Do we want to?

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, designed to fight hacking and cybercrime could be expanded to include child trafficking, but that would function as a warrantless search, with law enforcement agencies able to go to Facebook, etc. to request info and get data dumps.  

She leaves us with a question: What are the pros and cons of framing sex trafficking and abuse broadly and narrowly?


Q: In all these cases of the girls, sometimes it’s technology, sometimes it’s not. Are gangs involved in sex trafficking? How do we understand statistics like the fact that 50% of cases today are girls recruited through Facebook? Is this low-hanging fruit, and in this emphasis on Facebook, might we be missing other things? Individual cases or gangs? Is the system overloaded, are we missing the big picture? Are there gangs of sophisticated pimps?

Lisa says that though gangs play a part, they are not sophisticated gangs.  

Mary adds that sex trafficking is very regional. E.g., truck stops are key places for recruitment.  

Lisa suggests this is exactly why low-tech response is important and the response of Truckers Against Trafficking -- who have put up “if you see something say something” type posters at truck stops -- is important.

Domestic child sex trafficking serves as an umbrella term. It includes organized crime -- the Gotti family in New York had 125 defendants in a sex-trafficking ring; charged with money laundering -- but also Crips (12 victim child prostitution ring) who met outside high school.

Is it bad to get the smaller scale crime? No, because you’re helping a victim. Guns and drugs are finite commodities, children are not.

Girls involved in larger scale crime are the ones moved more frequently.

Mary notes that her research found that child sex trafficking is highly regional; Pennsylvania research showed that trafficking happens at truck stops; 3 major highways meet in Harrisburg, PA, so traffickers are bringing victims to the location, low tech.

Q: Quantifying trafficking prosecutions is difficult. How can we use technology to get “good numbers” of human trafficking so that the numbers are credible?

Lisa says she doesn’t know. Her own organization does it in a low-tech way. They train service providers to know how to identify and respond -- file a report 51A that goes to a case coordinator and into a low-tech database, which helps them know who they are not identifying, like boys.

Mary says it’s very challenging; some are trying to use crowdsourcing on cell phones; someone in Europe is looking at cellphone images and bringing information in from that. She offers a counterintuitive point. She says that while numbers are important, they can slow us down; before acting we need numbers. While this should be a focus, she worries that we are too focused on it.

Lisa offers an example from Atlanta, a survey of street activity as a way of gathering information, numbers. Lisa explains the numbers are a moving target. Over the last 10 years, the age at which girls were referred to her has gone down, but she doesn’t think that means that in general girls are being recruited at younger numbers, referrers are just getting better at identifying cases.

She explains there is also a paradigm shift in characterizing the girls among social workers. Girls who were characterized as manipulative, promiscuous runaways are now characterized as victimized, which is sometimes why the numbers spike.  

Kim suggests we need to think about what we’re trying to count -- victims, instances, what? Part of the reason we often fall back on the category of child pornography is that the digital object is easy to count. We can search for the digital object, we can manipulate the digital object, we can identify pieces of the digital object and track it all over the web.

Mary suggests that the decision to proceed on child pornography charges is partly about the cleanness or clarity of cases, an ability to get to the case. They charge child pornography in cases that are clearly child abuse because they can’t find the victim (US vs Davila Sanchez case). Over 95% of cases in the system are resolved by a guilty plea.

Lisa adds that juries are hard to convince, if the facts are “not what I expected,” jurors may find evidence difficult or hard to believe. Ideas of trafficking often revolve around “human slavery.” This is rhetoric commonly used to describe it, as existence of human slavery is hard to accept and argues for resolution. But another result is that we envision extreme images. Some victims don’t look like you expect them to look.

It’s hard to get juries to agree to things like Maria was “shackled.” Also when it’s a case of trafficking, young girls may have to give an account of sexual activity before an audience -- which is difficult and can mean loss of community. She gives an example of a victim who went through the court process and was eventually moved to a new community, but she knew nobody, had no skills, and was in despair. Those in prison had a defined sentence; the victim felt she had received a life sentence. Finally she found work for a victims’ organization.

Mary says that there was a time when prosecutors wouldn’t go forward without the victims. Now the predominant training is that you go forward without the victim. Technology can magnify trauma through technology providing more documentation -- screenshots from Craigslist, chat logs, photos -- that can further traumatize victim but also evidence is used to corroborate victims account and they don’t have to appear in court.

Q: What are examples where judges don’t give minimum mandatory sentences?

Mary explains that this sometimes occurs in child pornography cases. The reasoning of the court goes like this: ‘I have people in front of me all the time...who have committed rapes. This person speaks to not understanding the offense and just looks at pictures.’ The judge may feel that sending the person to prison violates the purpose of the guidelines, and thus not give out even minimum sentences.

There’s no lobby for child pornography possessors. But there is vocal opposition from the bench when there are so many cases that vary in so many ways -- this creates a spectrum and people start to say, this is on the lesser end of the spectrum.

Q: The NY Times had an article on how users of pornography are now made to pay. And that is a good development.  

Mary mentions James Marsh from New York on mandatory sentences; there was a time when viewing child pornography was seen as victimless crime. Now that has changed. Yet the courts have not been awarding restitution. This is because it is hard to conceive of awarding damages when the victim does not not know the person who saw the media. But this is a hot issue.

Q: Proceeding from the idea that it’s a crime every time you look at an image of child pornography, it’s not illegal to look at video or images of people killing each other or bombers blowing the public up. Legally, how do these examples correspond to people looking at images of child sex?

First, Mary says this is exactly the argument the pornography industry makes. But obscene speech is not protected speech. In order to make child pornography, you have to commit a crime. And that crime is intensified and re-intensified as that image circulates. This is the rationale of the Supreme Court when it does not include child pornography in its free speech protections.  

Kim adds that the circulation of images and media means that it is never “over” for the victim.  And that may be one reason why child pornography is given a different status than bomb explosions on video.  
Cowritten by HASTS PhD students Amy Johnson and Rebecca Perry, photography & video by Lan Li; workshop occurred on April 26, 2013.
The welcome to the MIT Sex Trafficking & Technology Workshop, given by Mitali Thakor.
Video link here. 
Today’s Sex Trafficking & Technology workshop centers on issues of sex trafficking and labor and human rights, from the viewpoint of activists and scholars. The workshop is a joint collaboration between MIT’s Anthropology Program and Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

Questions the workshop explores (from the workshop site):

Is the language of “trafficking” useful?  What does this terminology include and exclude?  How does trafficking discourse intersect with legal discourse?  What role does technology play in facilitating and disrupting problematic practices?  What are the social and political challenges to constructive dialogue about trafficking? How can questions of identity politics and feminist activism intervene in policy discussions about technological determinism and complicate notions of “empowerment?” By hosting this event at MIT we hope to highlight the role of technology in influencing sex trafficking discourse.

Mitali Thakor, the organizer of today’s workshop, is a graduate student in MIT’s HASTS program. Mitali welcomes everyone and explains that the event will be recorded. This is the first ever MIT workshop on sex trafficking. Today we will explore the connections between domestic sex trafficking, psychology, queer studies, technology. We are blurring the line between activists and academics.

Trafficking of youth and minors are major issues. New collaborations are forming around these issues. “Anti-trafficking” itself is picking up speed as a buzzword. The Palermo Protocols were put into effect in 2003. In the US the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) was renewed in 2006, 2007, 2009, and was passed as an amendment to the Violence Against Women legislation in 2010. A high profile campaign on protested Craigslist listings for adult services, arguing that this Craglist section served as a haven for sex trafficking. But there is debate on the value of goals like shutting down adult services websites. Soon after Craigslist took down their listings, web traffic to Backpage increased dramatically.

Two major issues are highlighted:

  1. What do we mean when we say “technology”? What is “social” and what is “technological”?
  2. What do new media websites do, how do they help or hinder the work that sex traffickers do?
Today’s multidisciplinary workshop convenes activists and scholars in the humanities in law and social sciences. The goal is to embrace dialogue and explore friction between different points of view. Is the language of trafficking useful or problematic? What do we mean by technology? What are the contributions of technology? How does it influence discourses around trafficking?

Mitali thanks Heidy Gonzalez, the student staff, and custodial staff helping with this conference.


    Liveblogging team: Amy Johnson, Rebecca Perry, Shreeharsh Kelkar, & Lauren Kapsalakis. 
    Videos and photos by: Heidy Gonzalez and Lan Li.


    April 2013