Most people don’t think that slavery exists today in the United States, let alone in Nebraska.
The sad truth is that human trafficking in the commercial sex industry — those sold involuntarily for sex — occurs every day across the country.
Creighton researchers are determining how many victims are affected by this crime — and what can be done about it.
The Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI) at Creighton uses data science to collect, analyze and evaluate the scope of sex trafficking and identify effective policy solutions.
Crysta Price, co-director of HTI and director of the data science lab, along with Terry Clark, PhD, co-director of HTI and professor of political science within Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences, combine their expertise to lead a research agenda that focuses not only on understanding trafficking but also combatting it through policy and services for victims/survivors.
Housed in the Creighton University Heider College of Business, HTI essentially grew out of an undergraduate project.
It got started when Price, an undergraduate majoring in international relations, joined an experimental research laboratory led by Clark and faculty in mathematics and computer science.
Price assumed leadership of a project simulating international human trafficking flows. Her jointly authored study of the international human trafficking network resulted in a paper, “Disrupting Human Trafficking,” which won “Best Substantive Contribution” at the 2014 Political Networks Conference in Montreal.
She subsequently pursued the research as a graduate student at Creighton, earning a master’s degree in data science.
Price brings her expertise in mathematical, statistical and computational modeling to the table, and pores over the latest literature on the subject of human trafficking. Clark’s background is in formal mathematics and social sciences.
Today, the two collaborate on all facets of projects coming out of the Human Trafficking Initiative.
HTI work spans local human trafficking networks to international aspects.
“We are called upon every week for support activities, such as testimony before legislative committees and questions for agencies,” Price says.
Their HTI research has supported the work of law enforcement, nonprofits and government agencies locally, regionally and nationally — from the FBI to the Salvation Army, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Michigan Supreme Court, to name just a few.
“Our main goals are to produce reliable research on the prevalence of trafficking and stronger policy solutions,” Price says.
HTI research reveals that Nevada has more sex workers per capita advertising online than any other state, followed by New York, Rhode Island and North Dakota.
The nation’s capital is the country’s hot spot — its per capita rate exceeds that of all 50 states.
While major cities such as Atlanta and Oakland, California, are hotbeds of commercial sex activity, lesser populated areas such as Biloxi, Mississippi, and Greenville, South Carolina, also top the list.
Their most recent project was a report that paints a picture of how prevalent human trafficking is in Nebraska.
Much of Nebraska is impacted by the Interstate 80 corridor, which has a relatively high per capita rate from Chicago westward.
The Nebraska report (“Nebraska’s Commercial Sex Market”), published in February, reveals that every month, 900 individuals are sold for sex, often multiple times in Nebraska and, of those, 135 — or 15 percent — are at high risk of being trafficked.
Seven out of 10 individuals sold for sex have at least one indicator of being trafficked. Being underage or controlled by a third party are indicators that the person is being trafficked as opposed to voluntarily participating as a prostitute.
As Clark points out, one is a victim, the other is a criminal.
“We want to better identify victims within the commercial sex industry — what portion is sex trafficking?” Price says.
The research determines where individuals lie on a continuum from sex work on one side to sex trafficking on the other. According to Clark,
“We have more trafficking than we initially thought.”