Human trafficking is a documented problem within the United States. It uses highly exploitative and often violent means to control victims. It is a complex and agile criminal enterprise where victims may be forced to perform other criminal activities, such as committing theft or selling illegal drugs. Although mathematical models cannot possibly capture the complexities of the lived experiences of sex trafficking victims and survivors, they may provide insights into effective strategies for disrupting these networks. This talk will highlight the approaches of our transdisciplinary team, composed of social scientists, industrial engineers, law enforcement task force investigators, and a survivor-centered advisory group, to begin building operational models of domestic sex trafficking networks and obtain data to populate them.
We will examine two case studies of network interdiction models that capture some of the complexities of disrupting domestic trafficking networks. Classic network interdiction problems focus on an attacker that will disrupt the network and then a defender that will operate over the disrupted network. The first case study focuses on a class of problems where the defender can restructure the network before operating it, based on the attacker’s disruptions. From an application perspective, analysis demonstrates that resources should be invested to disrupt the ability of traffickers to recruit at the same time as removing victims from their trafficking environments. Our second case study focuses on modeling the fact that traffickers often force victims to work in both commercial sex markets and perform other illicit activities (e.g., drug dealing, theft, and fraud). This case study allows an understanding of how market-level disruptions, such as decreasing the demand for commercial sex, may impact other forced criminality of victims.
Bio: Dr. Thomas Sharkey is part of a transdisciplinary research team looking at how to model effective disruptions for human trafficking networks. The team currently includes Dr. Lauren Martin (University of Minnesota), Dr. Kayse Maass (Northeastern), Dr. Kelle Barrick (Research Triangle Institute), Dr. Amy Farrell (Northeastern) and Dr. Yongjia Song (Clemson), along with a team of research staff and students. The work of this team has been funded through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ). In addition, the research discussed in this seminar has been done in collaboration with Dr. Dan Kosmas, a post-doc at Northeastern University, and Michael Clark, a MS thesis graduate from Clemson University.
Dr. Sharkey is a Professor of Industrial Engineering at Clemson University. Prior to joining Clemson in August 2020, he served as a faculty member at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for twelve years. He obtained his PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the University of Florida in 2008. His current research interests are in the area of network optimization and its applications to societal applications including infrastructure and supply chain resilience as well as interdicting illegal supply chains. His research has been funded by the NSF, including a CAREER award, and other sponsors including the NIJ and the Department of Homeland Security. He is the lead editor of a forthcoming special issue of IISE Transactions on applying analytical approaches to detect, disrupt, and dismantle illicit operations. He has received multiple teaching awards for his work on creating blended learning environments for undergraduate OR courses, including the IISE OR Division annual teaching award.