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 skillsets, Ieke addresses previously unanswerable questions about sex and labor trafficking and their relationship with illicit—yet public—businesses.
Next semester, Ieke will bring her passion for digital, data-based approaches to the social sciences into an experiential Ph.D. semester in London, working with undergraduate students in the semester-long program on Data, Ethics, and Culture at the New College of the Humanities. Ieke will teach a practicum in Data Science (DS2000/DS2001) as part of our collaboration with Northeastern’s College of Computer and Information Science. Adapting materials developed by Sociology professor Laura Nelson, Ieke will teach students how to use the Python coding language to access and analyze data while understanding the social implications of these activities. This is the first semester that DS2000/2001 is running 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 says.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Ieke earned her Bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and development sociology as well as her Masters in conflict studies and human rights in her home country. After graduating with her Masters, 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 explains. After three years at the Dutch Rapporteur, Northeastern seemed like the logical next step, as Amy Farrell, the Associate Director of Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice 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 datasets pulled from Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington for approximately 3,000 massage businesses, Ieke aims 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 to us 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 recently received significant support with a year-long fellowship from the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, which she will take up to complete her dissertation and her doctorate after her semester in London.