Good Tech, Bad Tech: Policing Sex Trafficking with Big Data


Technology is often highlighted in popular discourse as a causal factor in significantly increasing sex trafficking. However, there is a paucity of robust empirical evidence on sex trafficking and the extent to which technology facilitates it. This has not prevented the proliferation of beliefs that technology is essential for disrupting or even ending sex trafficking. Big data analytics and anti-trafficking software are used in this context to produce knowledge and intelligence on sex trafficking. This paper explores the challenges and limitations of understanding exploitation through algorithms and online data. It also highlights the key dimensions of exploitation ignored in big data-oriented research on sex trafficking. By doing so, the paper seeks to advance our theoretical understanding of the trafficking–‍technology nexus, and it is argued that sex trafficking must be reframed along a continuum of exploitation that is sensitive to the social context of exploitation within the sex market.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2022-03-01
Pages:149 to 166
Section:Part 1: Digital (in)Justices
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How to Cite
Kjellgren , R. (2022) “Good Tech, Bad Tech: Policing Sex Trafficking with Big Data”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(1), pp. 149-166. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2139.

Author Biography

University of Stirling
 United Kingdom

Richard Kjellgren is a PhD researcher at University of Stirling and affiliated with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and the Scottish Institute of Policing Research. His PhD research is focused on exploitation within sex markets and the role of technologies in this context. More widely, Richard has a strong interest in organised crime, online markets, networks, policing, and computational social science methods. Besides his PhD research, Richard has also recently been involved in research on county lines and criminal exploitation, community justice, and contract cheating and the exploitation of vulnerable students.