Participants: Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation, Chrysalis, Edmonton Police Service, MARSLab

Since 2012, MARS Lab has been working with CEASEChrysalis and others to deploy SMS to support outreach communication for victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking in the Edmonton area.

The project has evolved through several stages and now conducts an annual campaign using FrontlineSMS to compile a database of phone numbers and then send messages that provide recipients with information about CEASE and Chrysalis.  Both are organizations that provide support and assistance to workers in Edmonton’s sex trade.

The project uses web scraper software to automatically extract phone numbers from the adult section of the website, format them in a spreadsheet file and import into FrontlineSMS.  This automated procedure reduces considerably the time it takes to compile and refresh the database of phone numbers.

Results from the project have been promising, with CEASE and Chyralis having reported receiving calls for support from recipients of the text messages.  The system is a very cost-effective way to reach this population with information and support messages.

Most recently, we’ve invited students from the MACT program at University of Alberta to carry out small-scale collaborative research projects building on goals of the Backpage Project.

Additional Information and Resources

This FrontlineSMS case study report on Project Backpage provides a detailed discussion of the system and how it is used to send messages.

This peer-reviewed journal article present results of our work on Project Backpage between 2012-2014.

This is a report from a student-led collaborative research project that carried out a content analysis of Backpage.  This pilot research was carried out to determine if information contained in adult services classifieds on the website could be analyzed to identify possible victims of human trafficking.  The results are promising and the City of Edmonton has used the report in its own efforts to analyze Backpage to address this concern.

Report on Sex Trafficking from a Toronto Star investigation (December 2015), includes statistics and findings about and its role in facilitating trafficking of persons.

Polaris is a US-based organization that fights human trafficking and provide support for victims.  They have introduced a BeFree Textline service using Short Messaging Service (SMS) to communicate and provide support for victims and survivors. is a mobile app and website in Saskatoon targeted to youth victims of sexual exploitation, providing outreach support and incident reporting features.