Opportunities for ORMS to Address Anti-Human Trafficking

With only a quick glance through the plethora of parallel sessions at this year’s INFORMS Annual Meetings you can start to get a sense for the variety of application areas in which ORMS can be and has been used to make an impact. While most of us are aware of the opportunities and challenges for our field in the healthcare, defense, aviation, and manufacturing sectors, I am excited by the increased interest in using ORMS techniques to address equity, justice, and social welfare considerations as well.

Over the past decade, I have been particularly interested in utilizing mathematics to aid in anti-human trafficking efforts and was therefore delighted to see three related presentations scheduled for this year’s Annual Meeting:

  • “Prevention or Prosecution: An Analytical Approach to Modern Slavery in Supply Chains”
    Shawn Bhimani, Duke University
  • “Can Improving Youth Decision-making Skills Make Them Less Vulnerable for Sex Traffickers?”
    Kendra Taylor, KEYfficiencies, Inc.
  • “Human Trafficking: Opportunities for Operations Research and Management Science”
    Renata Alexandra Konrad & Andrew C. Trapp, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    Kayse Lee Maass, University of Michigan

Today I had the pleasure of attending Renata Konrad’s presentation which highlighted challenges and opportunities for ORMS to aid in anti-human trafficking efforts. Here is a sampling of the ideas she discussed:

Human Trafficking

Challenge: Victims are hidden and have limited societal interfaces
Example ORMS Opportunities: Media planning to increase awareness with minimal cost; queueing models to facilitate timely prosecution efforts

Challenge: Traffickers are covert and dynamically adapt to avoid detection
Example ORMS Opportunities: Network interdiction models with ambiguous evidence of trafficking; utilizing big data analytics and social media mining to identify illicit trafficking activities  

Challenge: Data are fragmented and there is a reluctance to share data (e.g., due to data privacy issues)
Example ORMS Opportunities: Data fusion techniques to merge disparate data sources; game theoretic approaches to illustrate the benefits of interagency cooperation

Challenge: Resources to combat the problem are limited
Example ORMS Opportunities: Scheduling fair trade inspectors; evaluating effectiveness of anti-trafficking initiatives

I encourage you to read through the related paper (citation below) to  learn more about how ORMS can be used to address the transnational issue of human trafficking and to also think about how ORMS can be used to improve other complex issues facing our society today.

Konrad, R. A., Trapp, A. C., Palmbach, T. M., & Blom, J. S. (2016). Overcoming Human Trafficking via Operations Research and Analytics: Opportunities for Methods, Models, and Applications. European Journal of Operational Research. doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2016.10.049