Emily Kennedy was in Junior high when she heard about human trafficking for the first time through a youth leader at her church in the San Francisco Bay area.
“He worked with an organization to physically pull children out of sex tourism in Cambodia.” Kennedy, now 28, tells Citizen. “That was really inspiring to me.”
Kennedy majored in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. And when the time arrived for her to write her honors thesis, her attention turned to trafficking again.
“But there was little written on it, particularly the angle I was interested in—the Internet and how technology has facilitated traffickers,” she recalls.
So in addition to conducting her own interviews with law enforcement agencies at all governmental levels, Kennedy also started taking with researchers at her school’s Robotics Institute about how to aggregate data.
“Once I got connected with that group, my thesis morphed into practical application,” she says.
By 2013, that application was an algorithm that became the basis for Traffic Jam. A year later, Kennedy and her robotics experts launched Marinus Analytics to make their data available directly to law enforcement agencies. And last year, the company received a grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct anti-trafficking research.
“Essentially what we do is gather data from ads,” she explains. “This can be searching a phone number, a name, a keyword. Starting with information about a victim or starting from square one, trying to drum up leads. Then we use machine learning to track the movement of victims even when they change their phone number—whatever the tactics are to draw off law enforcement.”
The company works with only a small handful of carefully selected nonprofit organizations.
“DeliverFund is truly making a measurable impact, and every person there that I’ve worked with is very solid, knows what they’re doing.” she says. “Not only does Nic have the tactical knowledge and experience, but the larger vision for where things need to go—which Is wonderful for combating such a huge problem.”
Originally published in the May 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.