SDSU grad invents program to detect sex trafficking websites

SAN DIEGO -- A recent San Diego State University graduate has invented a computer program that could save law enforcement officers countless hours and, more importantly, young girls' lives.

Emojis are something we use every day. But those same symbols are being used on websites where pimps are selling young girls for sex in San Diego.

“They’re a lot harder to detect in a system because you can’t just search the keyword,” said SDSU Information Systems graduate Jessica Whitney.

She has essentially cracked the code, potentially making it easier for law enforcement to hone in on profiles that are most likely underage girls being sold for sex.

For a while, pimps used keywords like “fresh” or “sweet” on their website posts, but cops caught on. Then, the pimps started using emojis because no system could search for them on a large scale, until now.

“We had 8,000 data points to look at. That’s just too many for anyone to do. With this program, we get it down to between 30 and 100 to focus on,” said SDSU Management Information Systems Professor Murray Jennex.

Whitney and Jennex were able to figure out what the emojis stood for. Their new system could do the heavy lifting for investigators, scouring the web for specific combinations of emojis and narrowing down thousands of ads a month to about 50 potential child sex trafficking cases.

Since Whitney just graduated from SDSU, she hasn’t been able to share her information with law enforcement but plans to in the near future.