William James College Faculty-Led Research Presented at Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference

September 11, 2015

Milay Lemos, MA Counseling Psychology Student & RIA House Staff in Toledo, Ohio.

On September 10, 2015, MA Counseling Psychology in Global Mental Health second-year student, Milay Lemos, presented the findings of a William James College data-mining study on the online sales of sex in Massachusetts at the Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference in Toledo, Ohio. The presentation described the collaboration that guided the study between Heather Wightman, director of RIA House, a non-profit in Worcester, MA that provides peer support services to adult survivors of sex trafficking; Jessie Bach, director of the Imagine Foundation, a non-profit data center collecting United States online sex sales data and reporting on nationwide trends; and Paola Michelle Contreras, Counseling Psychology faculty at William James College and the study’s Principal Investigator, and Lemos, one of 10 research assistants who worked on the project. The research assistant team collected approximately 17,115 lines of demographic, location, and pricing data in three months (March 1-May 31). In this period alone, this underground economy’s revenue was estimated at $7,701,750, resulting in approximately 51,345 transactions. 

The presentation also discussed the witnessing experiences of the research assistants entering data and, how they coped with exposure to potentially disturbing material. In other U.S. cities, similar data mining studies have helped local law enforcement identify persons exploited within the sex industry, and have also been instrumental for service organizations to develop targeted outreach to identify persons at risk for sex trafficking. Next steps on the project will be to present the data in Massachusetts and, disseminate a report to local law enforcement, service organizations, and the public.