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Working Title of PhD: Connecting the dots: mapping covert networks, vulnerability and exploitation within the off-street sex market

Year commenced PhD study: 2019

Institution/Organisation: University of Stirling

Funding Source: ESRC Full or part-time: Full-time

PhD Supervisors: Dr Niall Hamilton-Smith and Dr David Griffiths

Synopsis of PhD:

This research is concerned with developing an evidenced understanding of how the off-street sex market has been reconfigured by the emergence of online technologies, and particularly, how organised crime groups and traffickers use technology to facilitate their operations in the context of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. It seeks to examine the extent to which it is possible to identify covert networks operating within the off-street sex market and patterns indicative of vulnerability and exploitation. This research aims to develop an innovative methodology to analyse large volumes of textual data, with the purpose of generating actionable, open-source intelligence for law enforcement.

With the advent of the internet and online technologies, the way in which information flows between people and organisations has been transformed. Consequently, the organisation of the sex market has been reshaped by the emergence of online technologies and there has been a shift from street prostitution towards an expanding off-street sector. While there is considerable evidence that victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking are advertised on both social media and online classifieds, there is limited knowledge regarding the role of online technologies in facilitating exploitation and sex trafficking

Online technologies add new layers of complexities to the policing of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, as they allow traffickers and organised crime groups to become more sophisticated in their modus operandi. Consequently, innovative methods of policing are required to overcome the challenges brought upon by the intersection of sexual exploitation and online technologies.



University of Stirling


Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology
Colin Bell Building,
University of Stirling,

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