PSU news by
Penn State's student blog



IST Students Present Research On Sex Trafficking To Homeland Security Officials

Four undergraduate IST students presented their two-year study on human trafficking to Homeland Security officials in Washington, D.C. Penn State was one of only three universities in the country to present its findings on this modern form of human slavery. The team was made up of seniors Jesse Altmire and Aubree Biggs, and juniors Andrea Forster and Addie Jackson. Dr. Peter Forster, Dr. Nick Giacobe, and Dr. Ed Glantz were the group’s supervisors.

Over the last two years, the team worked on developing methods to better identify sex trafficking while simultaneously raising awareness. It turned its attention this year to online sex trafficking, and used data from, a Craigslist of sorts, to analyze potential sexual advertisements.

In large part due to the team’s studies, the Department of Homeland Security named Penn State a pilot school along with George Mason and the University of Oklahoma in its Blue Campaign, an effort to curb human trafficking.

Its origins lie in a request from the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center of the Pennsylvania State Police to help better understand sex trafficking in the commonwealth. Although it’s not a widely known issue, Backpage has generated $31.4 million dollars annually in online sexual services from this modern form of human slavery.

To combat the problem, the team developed a tool that automates the process of collecting data from Backpage in an attempt to prohibit the viewing of child pornography.

“This tool allows analysts to retrieve groups of classifieds sharing common attributes like phone number and location,” Altmire said.

The tool essentially pools data to pinpoint specific sites that could host criminal activity. It allowed the researchers to analyze around 500,000 advertisements on Backpage.

“This research project is the epitome of what we do in IST, which is to use technology to better understand information,” Forster said in a press release. “But in this case, that only takes you so far; you need to introduce the human factor to begin to delve into this issue.”

In 2014, Pennsylvania was recognized as the most improved state in human sex trafficking legislation. In most instances, victims don’t receive proper care. Altmire believes the most important way to end this problem is by increasing public awareness.

That’s when the Department of Homeland Security came calling, and asked Penn State’s College of IST to be a pilot school in its Blue Campaign. In addition to working to decrease the crime, the Blue Campaign also strives to train law enforcement officials to protect victims and punish perpetrators.

The undergraduate student team presented its findings to law enforcement, volunteers, and government officials at a Blue Campaign event at the Department of Homeland Security.

“The audience was very positive about the presentation and a number of organizations and groups expressed interest in accessing our data, receiving our tool, and learning more about our methodology,” Altmire said.

Now, IST students are working on a collaboration with the College of Communications to raise awareness of sex trafficking in the State College community. It’s a beneficial process not just to the victims, but to the researchers as well.

“When I came to college I really wanted to be able to do something that I thought made an actual difference,” Altmire said in a press release. “To be able to go out and do research and build tools and technologies to aid law enforcement in combating this problem really means a lot to me.”

Photo: Jesse Altmire

About the Author

Caitlyn Edgell

Caitlyn is a sophomore from Hollidaysburg, PA and is studying Political Science. She is also the Social Media Manager at Onward State. To contact Caitlyn, email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @caitlyn_edgell.


More by Caitlyn

MLK Events Encourage Students To Keep Moving Forward

This year’s events to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. are more than a celebration of the civil rights leader’s life and accomplishments – they are a call to action for all Penn State students. The theme of the 31st year of events honoring MLK is Keep Moving Forward, and organizers encourage students to get involved by using the hashtag #takethenextstep to promote the campaign on social media.

A Guide To THON Special Interest Orgs

Dan + Shay Kick-Off 2015 Homecoming Week With Energetic Concert


Penn State Hockey Releases 2018-19 Roster

Brett Murray is no longer on the team after an uneventful tenure in Happy Valley that saw him score just one goal in 33 games.

Penn State Women’s Soccer Sophomores Start Season Strong

Penn State Women’s Soccer Beats Duquesne 6-0

Shea Moyer Lifts Penn State Women’s Soccer Past West Virginia 1-0

Penn State Women’s Soccer Poised For Strong 2018 Season

Student Life

Freshman 101: Helpful Links

Canvas, LionPATH, and eLiving are just a few of the websites you’ll need to figure out this great big world called Penn State.

Nominations Now Open For Gender-Neutral Homecoming Court

Your Fall 2018 Sylly Week Playlist

Plans Submitted For New KFC In State College

Developers have submitted preliminary land development plans to build a new KFC restaurant at 1780 S. Atherton St. in State College.

Mayor Don Hahn Plans To Veto Overnight Parking Restrictions In Highlands Neighborhood

Those in favor of the ordinance plan to consider overturning the veto at a special meeting next Monday.

While You Were Gone…

Here’s a roundup of what went on around Penn State during summer break.

Be the first to know

  • Top posts and the best Penn State stories

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

What Changed In State College While You Were Away

With another summer in the books, here are all the changes to State College that happened while you were gone.

Send this to a friend