UC Santa Cruz doctoral student Sabina Tomkins has long been moved by the horrible stories of victims of human trafficking.Victims of sexual slavery are subject to inhumane living conditions and psychological and physical abuse. They face starvation and drug addiction as a result of traffickers asserting control. Traffickers are even known to threaten and harm victims’ family members.
“It’s hard to work on anything else because it’s so terrible that it happens,” said Tomkins, who is studying technology and information management.
Tomkins recently researched the link between extreme weather and human trafficking with postdoctoral researcher Golnoosh Farnadi and Professor Lise Getoor at UC Santa Cruz and Brian Amanatullah and Steven Minton at InferLink, a company that specializes in data extraction and integration.
InferLink approached the group at UC Santa Cruz with the problem of how events can impact security, and the team considered examining the effect of extreme weather on migration patterns before settling on human trafficking.
Their work on the link between extreme weather and human trafficking recently won a $300 best paper award at the Beyond Online Data workshop at the International Conference on Weblog and Social Media Data.
The authors wanted the money to be a positive force against trafficking and donated the award to two groups that combat human trafficking, Polaris, and Thorn.
Trafficking is a huge worldwide problem. On any given day in 2016 (when most recent data was available), an estimated 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery according to the International Labor Organization. An estimated 25 percent of these victims were children.
Traffickers use the aspirations of ordinary people to lure them in as victims. They promise parents that their children are going to a good school abroad or tell young workers that they will get a promising new job.
For their paper, Tomkins and the other researchers first reviewed ads for sexual …