Human trafficking activity on adult entertainment website more pervasive than expected


November 29, 2012

Evidence of human trafficking through ads posted on a popular adult entertainment website is more prevalent than first thought, according to a new study published by Arizona State University.

“One-Day Trafficking Snapshot of an Internet Service Provider,” a study conducted this month by a team of researchers from ASU’s School of Social Work, found that nearly 60 percent of the ads on Backpage.com Adult Entertainment Services were for selling sex/prostitution. Of those ads more than 20 percent were identified by the researchers to feature potential adult and minor trafficking victims. Download Full Image

The purpose of the study, according to its authors, was to better understand the scope of the online sex trafficking and prostitution enterprise in five major U.S. cities and to further develop a Trafficking Identification Matrix to accurately and systematically identify the characteristics and content typical of ads involving possible trafficking victims.

The study, led by Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, an associate professor with the School of Social Work within ASU’s College of Public Programs, provides a one-day snapshot of sex ads posted during a 12-hour period on Nov. 1 in five markets: Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and San Diego.

The Phoenix Police Department, Vice Enforcement Unit and the Minneapolis Police Department, Criminal Investigations Unit teamed up to develop a set of matrices that are useful in identifying possible trafficking victims and determinants of minor sex trafficking victims.

“The scope of the prostitution ads examined through the study was overwhelming,” Roe-Sepowitz said.

The study initially was designed to analyze 24 hours of online adult entertainment ads but due to the high volume and reporting requirements of ads collected and found to be consistent with potential sex trafficked adults and minors, the review period was reduced to 12 hours. A total of 1,332 ads from the five cities were collected and analyzed by a 12-member research team guided by Roe-Sepowitz and Lieutenant James Gallagher, Phoenix Police Department, Vice Enforcement Unit; Lauren Martin, Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), University of Minnesota;

Sargent Grant Snyder, Criminal Investigations Division, Minneapolis Police Department; Kristine Hickle, doctoral candidate, School of Social Work at ASU; and Jessica Smith, master's candidate at ASU.

“Input from experienced law enforcement personnel was integrated with practical and clinical practice-based knowledge from our social work research team,” Roe-Sepowitz said. “Additionally, all data collection team members had prior training in human development and more than half have worked closely with adult and minor human trafficking survivors in exiting programs in the Phoenix area.”

Roe-Sepowitz will travel to Washington, D.C. next month at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to participate in a meeting on services for victims of human trafficking. The meeting will take place Dec. 10 at the White House and is part of President Obama’s multi-faceted approach to improve efforts to combat and monitor human trafficking announced last September.  

As her research study continues, Roe-Sepowitz said the next step is to continue revising the matrix and documenting the findings of the age and trafficking verification of the ads collected from Phoenix and Minneapolis.  

“We will continue to partner with law enforcement agencies to obtain ads of known sex trafficking adults and minors to assist in the validation of the matrices,” she said.

Lt. James Gallagher, of the Phoenix Police Department, Vice Enforcement Unit, said the department’s participation in the initiative is part of a larger effort.

“The Phoenix Police Department is focused on building a strong network of collaborating agencies committed to working together to help victims connect with support services and move to a place of recovery rather than into the criminal justice system,” Gallagher said.

More information on the study is provided here: “One-Day Trafficking Snapshot of an Internet Service Provider”

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First evidence of paternal voice recognition in solitary foraging species found


November 30, 2012

Think of the last time you screamed. Chances are you attracted someone’s attention. What about the last time someone flirted with you? You were likely more selective in your response.

New research findings from Arizona State University and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in Germany demonstrate that a less social species – the grey-mouse lemur – pays attention to alarm calls regardless of whom they emanate from, but they are selective when it comes to mating calls from their fathers, paying more attention to calls from unrelated males.  Grey-mouse lemur Download Full Image

Findings from the study that analyzed grey-mouse lemur calls provide the first evidence of paternal kin recognition through vocalizations in a small-brained, solitary foraging mammal, said Sharon Kessler, the principal investigator for the study and ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change graduate student.

Grey-mouse lemurs serve as a model for the early primates from which humans evolved, she added. Early primates likely shared traits with the lemurs such as foraging in dense forests and hunting for food at night in solitude, but also engaging with each other in social groups.

“Species with less complex social systems can be models for early primates, so we can learn about our own evolution," Kessler says. "We think that the earliest primates were very much like mouse lemurs.

“The study allowed us to go back further in time and to take a deeper approach into time. It suggests that kin recognition through vocalizations was important for primate evolution.”

The research indicates that sounds made by animals have been a vital tool to recognize kin since before complex social systems evolved in primates, “basically since the origins of primates,” Kessler said.

Studying an animal that forages in solitude, and not in groups as do monkeys and apes, allowed researchers to model how important kin recognition through voice would have been in a similar species from 55 to 90 million years ago.  Findings were published online Nov. 30 in BMC Ecology.

“It suggests that the paternal kin recognition can evolve without having a complex social system,” Kessler said.

The research team’s work began in 2008 to examine whether or not animals with smaller brains relative to body size could recognize kin through vocalizations as they forage by themselves at night. Calls were measured through frequency (how high or low the voice is) at various time points in the call, duration and intersyllable interval (how rapidly the call is repeated).

“Vocalizations are particularly important because you can communicate over a distance,” Kessler said. But danger sometimes lurks in the form of predators that may hear the calls. Mouse lemurs can communicate in the high frequency and ultrasonic ranges that are too high for humans to hear. This is also too high for predators like owls to hear, meaning that that mouse lemurs can communicate without being eavesdropped by predators. 

Findings of the study showed that females distinguished their fathers from unrelated males using mating calls. One explanation for being able to recognize paternal kin may be that females can use the calls to avoid mating with relatives, Kessler said.

It’s compelling to consider how mouse lemurs distinguish the calls since the species is raised only by mothers, aunts and grandmothers, she added. Fathers don’t help with infant care and don’t share the nest with the mother and babies, so learning a father’s voice while growing up doesn’t seem possible.

One possibility is phenotype matching. If family members sound similar, females may compare calls of potential mates to their own calls and to the calls of their brothers (littermates) in the nest. Then if they choose mates that sound different from themselves and their brothers, they would be choosing unrelated males.

Authors of the article "Paternal Kin Recognition in the High Frequency / Ultrasonic Range in a Solitary Foraging Mammal," are: Kessler, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany; Leanne T. Nash, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Marina Scheumann and Elke Zimmermann, Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany.

This research was funded by the German Research Foundation, Sigma Xi, the Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association.