Agency Partners with StolenYouth to Impact Exploitation and Sex Trafficking
SEATTLE, WA, March 26, 2021 – In an effort to deter would-be sex offenders from preying on underage youth, DNA in Seattle has created and launched “Project SugarFree,“ an automated AI technology platform that intercepts predative social media posts, reports and identifies exploiters, and in six weeks, has successfully removed nearly 1000 posts originating in Seattle for elicit content.
The practice of “sugaring” typically involves wealthy older men engaging in a commercial transaction where they provide gifts, money, trips, and other things of value in exchange for the time and attention of younger women and men. Numerous websites are glamorizing the concept of sugaring as a means of obtaining financial security. However, the lure of sugaring – looking for or being a sugar daddy, sugar mama or sugar baby – has been identified by law enforcement focused on sex crimes as a candy-coated version of prostitution that is attracting child sex trafficking victims and exploiters.
“Project SugarFree” was created by DNA to support Seattle non-profit StolenYouth, an organization focused on dismantling marketplaces that fuel child sex trafficking. The technology built by DNA looks for “sugaring language” as the first step in a process of disrupting the “sugar” lifestyle.
“We were conducting a social listening exercise for a client in the financial services space and noticed tens of thousands of posts using sugaring language while mentioning our client by name,” explained Rob Scherzer, Senior Data Strategist at DNA. “This disturbing trend galvanized us to find a way to use technology to fight back on behalf of would-be victims. We created Project SugarFree to respond in real time with facts and data to dissuade vulnerable populations from entering into sugaring relationships while reporting and removing exploiters and potential criminals from the Twitter platform.”
To date, Project Sugar Free has (up dated data here).
7,415 sugaring posts collected
1,237 sugaring posts replied to
56 Exploiters monitored
5 Exploiters removed
3,846 posts reported
966 posts removed
The automated AI platform uses an army of Twitter bots to seek out potential sugaring moments. The bot chooses and posts an appropriate response from a database of hundreds of pre-crafted graphics and copy designed to reply to those curious about sugaring lifestyles with facts and messages of deterrence. Tweets identified as predatory are reported.
In response to a post that might say, “looking for a sugar daddy,” the bot could respond with a direct message saying: The word ‘sugaring’ is just a candy-coated version of prostitution. The exchange of sex for money is not explicitly stated but, the expectation is always clear. They will ‘spoil you’ in exchange for sexual conduct. Don’t be fooled.
Potential exploiters who post something such as “if you are seeking a sugar daddy to spoil you… DM me now” might get a response that reads: Did you know that patronizing a person for sexual conduct is a crime in the state of Washington? Know the possible legal repercussions of the crime you are about to commit. Learn more at stolenyouth.org/sugarfree
“Sugaring, like other sex crimes, is a crime of power and privilege where abusers have the power and those being exploited typically come from our most marginalized and vulnerable communities,” explained Marnie Backer, Executive Director at StolenYouth. “ProjectSugarFree is a unique technology platform that shuts down one of the on-ramps to exploitive behavior.”
In developing this program, DNA consulted with King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Gauen, who leads his office’s anti-trafficking initiatives and case work. Gauen said that he has seen an increase in sex trafficking and assault cases that arise from sugaring relationships as sugaring is being marketed to younger people including college and high school aged youth. “We are thrilled to partner with DNA and Stolen Youth to leverage this intervention technology in a way that prevents harm by educating people about the true risks of sugaring.”