Fayetteville State and Elizabeth City State Universities join forces to Combat Sex Trafficking Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technology for Image and Text Analysis

A grant from George Mason University supports partnership between Fayetteville State, Elizabeth City State and the Defense Alliance of North Carolina to Tackle Human Trafficking
Date: November 29, 2022

Dr. Sambit Bhattacharya & Dr. Shyamal Das

Pictured: Dr. Sambit Bhattacharya (left) & Dr. Shyamal Das (right)

Fayetteville, N.C. (November 29, 2022)Fayetteville State University (FSU), Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) and the Defense Alliance of North Carolina are working together to develop technology that analyzes data and trends related to sex trafficking.

Thanks to a two-year, $342,076 grant awarded to ECSU from a partnership with the Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis Center (CINA) — a multidisciplinary academic consortium led by George Mason University and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — the initiative aims to create solutions to the human trafficking epidemic that victimizes more than 25 million people worldwide. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Countering Human Trafficking, nearly 20% of that number includes sex trafficking victims while the other 80% accounts for victims of forced labor.

Shyamal Das, Ph.D., ECSU professor of homeland security and sociology, is the grant’s principal investigator and Sambit Bhattacharya, Ph.D., FSU professor of computer science, is co-principal investigator. The research seeks to deliver a software architecture for cross-model extension to include viable machine learning models and algorithms. The team will conduct its tracking based on the structure of web-based, state-of-the-art software detection technologies and incorporate two modes in the proposed architecture: image surveillance and texts.

“The novel approach will combine my work as a social scientist with that of Dr. Bhattacharya, a computer scientist and industry expert, and use cross-model detection to hopefully curb this zero-tolerance industry that impacts the lives of families,” Das said. “Our goal is to develop an architectural model for web-based technologies that can be used in the future. We hope to combine artificial intelligence and algorithms since most sex trafficking exchanges begin online through internet exchanges and on the dark web.”

Das noted that the initiative will assist law enforcement in identifying perpetrators and targets, thereby creating a safer, more secure country. “The potential social impact of this technology is great — it will save lives, especially young girls and boys who are often the targets of sex traffickers,” he said. “This could have a powerful influence on our society and shape future research that can be used to assist other agencies, such as Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC), Border Protection, Immigration, and Security, and solve other challenges that affect the health, safety and well-being of our communities.”

Bhattacharya is an expert in artificial intelligence, robotics and algorithm development and has worked extensively with homeland security and other federal initiatives. He directs the Intelligent Systems Lab at FSU which hosts facilities and equipment for students and faculty to work on these projects. “Human trafficking is a vicious crime that’s insidiously difficult to identify, track, disrupt or prevent,” Bhattacharya said. “As more of this activity is conducted online, we’re challenged to surveille and intercept perpetrators. This effort will hopefully add additional tools to our arsenal to help keep innocent people from harm and disrupt this segment of organized crime.”

These investigators have collaborated on other crucial research and developed new and relevant pedagogy to better prepare students and future scientists to address and solve major challenges that lie ahead. Recently, Drs. Das and Bhattacharya collaborated on a prestigious undergraduate research grant awarded from the University of North Carolina System to develop a new course titled: Integrating Data Science into the Homeland Security (HMLS) at ECSU and support a joint project between ECSU and FSU.

“It’s inspiring to see the extraordinary collaboration of these distinguished investigators as they work to combat a global threat,” said Monica T. Leach, Ed.D., provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at FSU. “Joining Dr. Das’s and Dr. Bhattacharya’s expertise in data analysis and computer algorithms will have a major impact on critical homeland security issues and further engage our students in the security sector. We are fortunate to have teacher-investigators of their caliber preparing our future security leaders and applying their talents to making the world a better place.”

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