San Diegans create way to decode ads posted by sex traffickers

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A professor and former student at San Diego State University are being recognized for making a difference in the fight against human trafficking. 
 
Professor Murray Jennex is a management information systems professor for The Fowler College of Business at SDSU.
 
He worked with his former student and SDSU graduate, Jessica Whitney, to develop a “knowledge management system” which determined how traffickers were using a series of emojis as code in online classified ads posted in Backpage. 
 
For example, a cherry or a growing heart means that a trafficking victim may be underage. The research showed that emojis were used to make it more difficult for law enforcement to recognize trafficking ads as they look for keywords in the text of the ads.
 
“What surprised me the most was how many victims you could find," Jennex said. "We were finding we were pretty sure anywhere from 30 to 50 in each of our datasets. And that’s a lot of girls.”
 
Jennex and Whitney were honored as “mission heroes” by Soroptimists Together Against Trafficking (STAT) for “making a difference in the fight against human trafficking.” 
 
The research methodology has been shared with a number of law enforcement agencies including the district attorneys for the states of New York and Texas, as well as the district attorney’s office in San Diego.
 
“It was just kind of this idea, like 'Wow, this is really becoming something' and it makes me just want to move forward and help as much as I can,” Whitney said. 
 
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