Ieke De Vries is a doctoral candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice who brings innovative social science and computational tools to the study of human trafficking. Using a combination of traditional criminological methods and modern digital skill sets, Ieke addresses previously unanswerable questions about sex and labor trafficking and their relationship with illicit—yet public—businesses.
In spring 2019, Ieke brought her passion for digital, data-based approaches to the social sciences into an Experiential PhD semester in London, working with undergraduate students in the Data, Ethics, and Culture program at the New College of the Humanities. Ieke taught a practicum in data science (DS2000/DS2001) as part of our collaboration with Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences. Adapting materials developed by sociology professor Laura Nelson, Ieke taught students how to use the Python coding language to access and analyze data while understanding the social implications of these activities. This was the first semester that DS2000/2001 ran simultaneously in Boston and London. “I am of course thrilled to be part of this program and truly believe it is a critical step for the university to contribute to academic thinking in a digital era,” Ieke said.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Ieke earned her bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and development sociology as well as her Master’s in conflict studies and human rights in her home country. After graduating with her Master’s, Ieke worked at the Dutch Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence Against Children. “That’s where my interest in researching human trafficking issues—and also the link with policy and practice—was established,” she explained. After three years at the Dutch Rapporteur, Northeastern seemed like the logical next step, as Amy Farrell, Associate Director of Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (SCCJ) and now Ieke’s advisor, is well known for her work on human trafficking.
Ieke started her PhD program in fall 2015, collaborating with Farrell on a grant for the Children’s Advocacy Center in Boston. Over the next two years, using a combination of her criminological methods and computational skills, Ieke helped set up a database that the Children’s Advocacy Center now uses to track youth at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.
Ieke’s dissertation is about identifying commercial sex trafficking in massage businesses, which, she says, “seems like only a small branch, but it speaks to a larger question of how illicit activity and criminal activity is embedded in public and online spaces.” Ieke and her advisors settled on this study when the Attorney General’s Office in Suffolk County reached out to SCCJ for help in tackling this problem within Boston. Using interviews with law enforcement officials, publicly accessible data, and administrative data sets pulled from Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington for approximately 3,000 massage businesses, Ieke aimed to understand an often-underreported and unidentified kind of sex and labor trafficking. In the digital age, little can stay hidden. “We have lots of data available that helps us answer questions that we couldn’t answer before in terms of the role of clients and how illicit businesses are connected. That’s a digital footprint online that you can study.”
Ieke’s research received significant support with a year-long fellowship from the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, which she used to complete her dissertation and her doctorate.
Starting fall 2020, Ieke will continue her career as an assistant professor at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University (FSU), one of the top-ranked programs in criminology in the US. She will further work with faculty and students on research that matches computational social science to criminological inquiries about crime, place, and networks, responses to emerging crimes, and human trafficking victimizations.