IBMers in Canada fight human trafficking with the DataJam competition

By | 3 minute read | July 20, 2021

According to Public Safety Canada, in 2018, 97% of victims of human trafficking were women and girls. Over two-thirds of human trafficking incidents between 2009-2019 were reported in Ontario. Of these, 45% of all victims of human trafficking were between the ages of 18 and 24.

In response to these disturbing statistics, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility joined forces with the following organizers of the bilingual tech innovation competition to deliver DataJam Contre L’Exploitation/DataJam Against Human Trafficking in Canada:

The competition, funded by the Government of Canada – Public Safety Agency and held online from May 7 – 17, 2021, was designed to facilitate the development of technical solutions that could be used to address human trafficking in Canada, while improving participants’ technical and substantive capabilities, and enhancing collaboration among interdisciplinary sectors in Canada.

The participating teams, largely made up of university students and recent graduates, were asked to build their solution based on one of the following challenge areas:

  1. Provide new insights into human trafficking of Indigenous, Northern and secluded communities, LGBTQI+ people or youth to raise awareness, detect, and prosecute the crime among these communities. ​
  2. Identify, prevent and prosecute youth and children’s exploitation online, most notably in social media and online gaming platforms. ​
  3. Explore relationships between human trafficking and socioeconomic factors, migration, COVID-19, natural disasters, or major events to identify trafficking patterns, networks and hotspots.

IBM Canada deployed an IBM Service Corps (ISC) team made up of four IBMers from Nova Scotia and Ontario, who worked closely with the partner organizations to deliver the DataJam event by supporting marketing and communications, engaging mentors and coaches, and designing a system to organize the solutions.

DataJam attracted 75 participants, forming 16 teams from across the country. Throughout the competition they had access to IBM tools and technologies, such as IBM Watson and the IBM Cloud, as well as IBM and other industry subject matter experts, mentors and coaches to assist them as they developed their solutions.

Fighting human trafficking is not new to IBM.  For nearly three years, the company has been applying cloud and AI technologies to identify patterns of activity to disrupt human trafficking with the organization Stop The Traffik.  Together, we have developed the Traffik Analysis Hub, a global counter-trafficking resource with over 80 members.

DataJam’s winning team was Buyer Resist. Their solution uses data to expose organized crime in the sex work industry. Second place went to a team of data scientists from Scotiabank who specialize in anti-money laundering analytics and third place went to four graduates from the Montreal Institute of Learning Algorithms.

The main goal of Buyer Resist’s solution is to break the chain between trafficking and sexual exploitation. Combing public sources such as escort listing sites and escort board posts, they use matching algorithms to spot repeating text patterns, keywords and sentiment to identify ads likely posted by traffickers. Arming law enforcement with this data analysis can assist them in directly intervening and stop human trafficking before it happens.

According to Brian Rae, team leader of Buyer Resist, “the perpetrators are using technology to enslave, traffic, exploit and abuse millions around the world, and we believe we should use technology to get ahead of them and stop them in their tracks.

All DataJam participants now have access to IBM’s SkillBuild platform for continued skills development and the top three solutions will be presented at a future UNODC conference.

“The IBM Service Corps (ISC) team was vital in the organization of our most recent Datajam Against Exploitation in Canada. The ISC team worked tirelessly to gather relevant data for the participants of the competition to develop innovative solutions and also offered their expertise in setting up and conducting training sessions online. ISC members quickly integrated with the organization team and showed remarkable motivation and willingness to contribute to the overall success of the project.” Martin Hemmi, Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer at United Nations Office on Drug and Crime

“I gained an in-depth knowledge on the many contributing layers of human trafficking in Canada.” Valerie Lemay, Learning Deployment Manager, Global Business Services – Nova Scotia

“Being part of ISC has enriched my experience as an IBMer because it allowed me to see what IBM is capable of doing outside of my current job and practice. Working on the ISC project opened my eyes to ways we could help the world with technology. It was extremely rewarding to participate in this giveback activity.” Sophia Sountsova, Associate Consultant, SAP, Global Business Services – Toronto

Thanks to the IBM Service Corps team for supporting this important anti-human trafficking project: Valerie Lemay, Prasanth Menon, Sophia Sountsova and Hayley Ben-Oliel.