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SMU creating human trafficking data ‘warehouse’

SMU NEWS – SMU is creating a federally-funded data warehouse to centralize data collection and support research into human trafficking in the United States.

An estimated 27.6 million people worldwide are forced at any given time to perform labor or engage in commercial sex acts. The SMU Human Trafficking Data Warehouse will give law enforcement agencies, researchers and policymakers a single, secure place where they can quickly analyze nationwide human trafficking data. Sections of the warehouse are set to be live this fall.

“Human trafficking data exists, but datasets are often siloed by individuals and organizations, which decreases the useability of the data,” said Beth Wheaton-Páramo, the economist leading the SMU human trafficking research team. “Many of these datasets are based on case studies, meaning they describe a very specific geographic or socioeconomic area of human trafficking that may not provide a full picture of what is happening across the nation.”

With the help of SMU’s high-performance computing capabilities, law enforcement and others devoted to anti-trafficking work will be able to utilize the datasets housed in the data warehouse to analyze trends in forced labor and sex trafficking much faster than the months it would take for a single investigator to acquire the information from press releases, case studies and other sources. Data warehouse users will have credentialled access to a secure online dashboard to identify trends in human trafficking across datasets in a way that was previously impossible.

SMU offers the advantage of neutrality in storing the data, breaking down the potential for rivalry that can interfere with data sharing, said Wheaton-Páramo.

Funded by a $1.187 million U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice grant, the project includes a study of the relationship between economics and human trafficking–both for victims and perpetrators–and the projected cost of doing nothing about this crime.

Wheaton-Páramo, author of 2019’s The Economics of Human Rights, is working with Raanju Sundararajan, SMU assistant professor in statistics, for the cost analysis, as well as an examination of spatial and temporal patterns in human trafficking data.

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