University of Alabama offers new tools so sex traffickers can be caught

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By WVUA 23 Student Reporter Emily Benito

The University of Alabama Institute of Data and Analytics has created a tool that collects information from online sex ads.

The tool identifies sex trafficking locations and helps nonprofits reach potential victims.

“There’s two main groups that we help: law enforcement and nonprofits.  Both are engaged in the same battle, and that is to stop sex trafficking,” said University of Alabama Professor of Cyber Security Greg Bott.

Bott helped create the program and said the analytics have led to more than 100 arrests in West Alabama since 2021.

University of Alabama Police Department Investigator Jessica Wilson said the analytics system helps authorities track and collect information from websites that ensures predators are put behind bars.

“When we plan to make contact with the sellers of commercial sex, that tool helps to show us some of the trends that have been in Tuscaloosa recently,” said Wilson.

The data collecting tool has also been useful for nonprofits that help women find a safe place to eat, shower and find comfort while escaping violence.

Hope-Filled Rooms founder Holley Pugh said the tool helps her organization contact women in need.

“No. 1, it’s a huge time saver,” said Pugh. “I’m spending less time digging through the ads and figuring out what’s real and what’s not and who we should be texting.”

Pugh said the data has helps her contact about 20 women and girls a night. The first time they put it to use, they reached 37 people.

Categories: Crime, Local News