Ohio Northern University’s School of Social Sciences and Human Interaction this fall created a cybercrime research lab that’s proving particularly useful for criminal justice majors. With an initial focus on human trafficking, the lab, housed in Biggs Hall, allows students to more closely examine existing literature and knowledge on particular topics and cases.
Keith Durkin, Ph.D., the School’s director and professor of sociology, was inspired by his own professional and personal experiences to create the lab. Long interested in technology and crimes, Durkin authored some of the first articles on internet use by sex offenders, and served for several years as a consultant for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He was also a foster parent.
“Protecting kids has always been a passion of mine,” Durkin said.
According to Crime Victim Services of Ohio, human trafficking “is the buying and selling of another human being in exchange for a good or service.” The federal definition includes any act (such as recruiting, harboring, or transporting) “through means of force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation.”
With children and other vulnerable populations most susceptible to falling victim to human traffickers, Durkin pointed out that the COVID-19 lockdowns accelerated the problem.
Durkin hopes the new lab will help students make connections between the literature and develop new approaches to not only address such crimes after they occur, but to prevent them from happening in the first place. Students are developing typologies and profiles of criminals, along with researching the circumstances and personalities that make individuals more likely to be trafficked.
Durkin is also starting to collaborate with ONU tech studies professors on the possibility of cyber fraud as another lab focus. Fake websites offering bogus products and services are also a growing problem, he maintained. “A lot of criminal justice careers in the future are going to involve technology and crime,” he said.