Human Trafficking and Tech: The Bright Side of Technology

Sep 12, 2019 | by Jenn Harvey

With more awareness about human trafficking in the news, on social media, and in our own social circles, our eyes are opened to what recruitment, methods of control, and the impact on survivors looks like. With a simple Google search on the subject of Human Trafficking, you will often find the words “trafficking” and “social media” tethered together. The role of technology and recruitment tactics can often be intertwined in the context of both sex and labor trafficking.

In a study conducted by The University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, a series of 16 in-depth interviews with key constituents suggests that, “Social media is increasingly being exploited to contact, recruit and sell children for sex” (University of Toledo, 2018).  Through platforms like Craigslist to social media apps like Snapchat, technology is a large part of what can perpetuate trafficking as traffickers utilize internet and media trends as part of recruitment tactics and manipulation.

 However, we cannot write technology and social media off as part of the problem. Access to technology can be part of the solution if we use it as a tool for positive progress. As the National Consumers League States (2017), “From mobile phones to big data analytics, technology can help in the fight against human trafficking. Access to a phone can enable a victim to call friends, family, or a hotline for help. Data trends enable us to study patterns of trafficking and to know where to combat it…This is why it is crucial to use technology as part of the solution”.

Furthermore, a 2015 report written by the Center for Communication Leadership & Policy at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism titled Technology and Labor Trafficking in a Network Society proclaims that “Mobile and internet technologies can be leveraged to assist workers and migrants to connect with crucial social networks of support, family, friends, and information”. Through the report’s case study on a labor trafficking experience in the Philippines, it hopes to “help the public and policy makers better understand the role technology plays as both a problem and solution,” according to Geoffrey Cowan the director of CCLP (Technology & Human Trafficking, 2015).  You can download a PDF of the report here!

This week, we want to highlight and uplift areas in which technology is fighting for good to combat trafficking, aid survivors, and raise awareness.

Raising Awareness

These days, social media and internet use is one of the most effective ways to get the word out on news, ideas, and current events. Some apps are utilizing their platform to raise awareness and offer education on the issue of human trafficking.

Redlight Traffic App

This App provides information on the signs of trafficking and what to look for as a concerned individual. It aids with recognizing and reporting these signs anonymously in order to safely share tips to law enforcement. There are options to report a concerning business, vehicle, or person as well as the specific location (Apple, 2019).  It is important to note that any other in-person intervention can often put yourself and those in the situation at risk or danger of harm. This app provides an anonymous alternative that still allows for you to report  the situation to people that do this work and are trained to respond.

Truckers Against Trafficking App

Meet the Truckers Against Trafficking individuals that intentionally seek to “educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and travel plaza industry to combat domestic sex trafficking” as part of their mission (2019). Did you know that they also have an App? This app shares examples of red flags, what to do and how to report suspicious activity, quick access to helpful hotlines, and an option to email in a report. Industry specific apps like this are especially useful in making sure that workers are able to adequately respond as they do their work.

Love Is Not Abuse App

In our local context, we often see the building of familial and romantic relationships as common recruitment tactics for exploitation. Much of prevention work centers around making sure young people know the signs of a negative or potentially abusive and exploitive relationship. This App created by Break The Cycle (2014), acts as an educational resource for parents to learn more about the ins and outs of teen dating violence and abuse. It has an interactive component where adults are able to receive examples of what controlling or abusive behavior may look like. It also includes helpful resources in the case that an adult is concerned someone they know is experiencing abuse. This app especially focuses on the misuse of technology and privacy as a tactic!

Access to Safety and Resources

All too often, we view phones and social media as a way for traffickers to reach survivors and a powerful barrier to leaving a situation of exploitation. However, cell phones and access to internet can also be a source of safety and a life line for survivors of trafficking. There is a reason why most of us do not even leave the house without our cell phones. They allow us access to needed information in real time, directions, emergency phone calls, and more at the push of a button.

The Polaris Project (2019) reiterates that, “Social media is designed to build connections between individuals, and victims of trafficking are no exception. While human traffickers use online platforms to recruit, advertise, monitor, and abuse their victims, it is also important to bear in mind that many victims are actively using social media during their exploitation to seek safety, support, and even to coordinate their exits”.  In fact, in their 2017 survey, they identified that 19 percent of survivors stated that social media aided their exit (2019). By utilizing safety features, location discovery services, and connecting with support systems, they found technology to be an asset. You can read more about the results of their survey here.

The following Apps and platforms offer access to safety and resources to individuals experiencing exploitation and who have similar lived experiences.

Contratados

This is a resource for migrant workers to access frequently asked questions about J-1, H-2A, H-2B and TN visas and important “Know your rights” information. It points individuals in the right direction for resources such as the Migrant Rights Center, Inc., and where to report dangerous work conditions, retaliation, and harassment. This resources also serves as a network for individuals to search employers, recruiters, and agencies, read reviews by other workers, or leave a review regarding their experience so that others can benefit from the feedback.

Tech Safety                                                                                                

Because so much of recruitment and control tactics used by traffickers are through technology, many survivors of trafficking or other crimes may not know that safety options exist. Tech Safety is an app that discusses six categories of safety, including” harassment, impersonation, cellphone safety, device safety, location safety, and online safety (Tech Safety, 2016). It is geared toward anyone who may be experiencing harassment or abuse by means of technology and wants to increase their safety or options for legal action.

Identity Theft Help App

Unfortunately, when individuals are in a situation of exploitation or have exited, often other crimes such as identity theft are perpetrated against them. The Identity Theft Help App from the Identity Theft Resource Center offers free case management to help track a case of identity theft, access to an expert advisor, resources and tips for further identity protection, notifications of threats, and a 24/7 hotline.

VINE

VINE, or Victim Information and Notification Everyday, is a platform that allows victims and survivors of crime to receive free and confidential notifications about offenders,  such as changes in their status, location,  or release date. This aids survivors of trafficking and other crimes the opportunity to safety plan as needed and have peace of mind regarding the situation of the perpetrator. VINE can be accessed through an online portal, a mobile app, and a toll-free hotline number.

National Human Trafficking Hotline

The National Human Trafficking Hotline provides a hotline available nation-wide in order to answer calls, texts, and live chats 24/7 in over 200 languages in order to help survivors connect to local services, collect tips, or gain general information about human trafficking (2019). The hotline to call is 1-888-373-7888 and the Text option includes texting BeFree to 233733. The National Human trafficking Hotline is often what refers survivors in the Chicagoland area to Stop-It’s case management services and acts as a resource when folks need to relocate to our area for safety reasons.

STOP-IT’s 24/7 Hotline

Our hotline is available 24/7 for to provide immediate support to individuals who are seeking assistance, services, referrals and resources regarding a trafficking situation. The number to know is 877-606-3158. To learn more about our hotline services, check out our previous blog post on the subject here!

Streetlight Chicago App

This Chicago-based app focuses on providing young adults (ages 16 through 24) in unstable housing situations with real time information on shelters, clinics, emergency resources, mental health services and drop-in centers. The app offers a map of nearby resources and contact information, making it easy to access emergency services when needed in the moment (Streetlight Chicago, 2017).

Fighting Against Exploitation

Sweat & Toil

The U.S. Department of Labor developed this app to serve as a comprehensive resource that documents child labor and forced labor globally. According to USDOL, information to support this resource is gathered from, “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor; List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor; and List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor” (2018).  This app enables users to learn about a country’s efforts to eliminate such labor, child labor data, information on what goods are produced with forced labor, current law reviews, and what government action is taking place (2018). This is a great place to start in order to ask the right questions, take steps toward action, and seek change.

Rethink Supply Chains

In 2016, The Partnership for Freedom launched a challenge competition called Rethink Supply Chains: The Tech Challenge to Fight Labor Trafficking. Finalists were supported in order to develop a proposed solution to identify and challenge labor trafficking in world-wide supply chains. The Grand Prize Winners included a team from The Sustainability Incubator and Trace Register who developed the Labor Safe Digital Certificate, which is “a risk assessment tool that will help seafood suppliers and major retailers better screen for risks of forced labor and address high-risk zones in their supply chains” (Administration for Children & Families, 2016). To learn more about the challenge and other finalist ideas, check out www.rethinksupplychains.org!

TraffickCam

TraffickCam allows users to play an active role in helping create a database of hotel room images in hopes that investigators are able to efficiently connect images and names of hotels from the database to identify the location of images used as part of an investigation, since traffickers often post photographs of survivors in hotel rooms for online advertisements. Users can simply download the app and upload a photo of their hotel room and information as they travel. While this app may be able to help in that effort, the impact given the volume of hotel rooms and the general way in which hotel rooms look similar to each other is unknown.

The variety of tech initiatives being developed to assist survivors is encouraging; we look forward to continuing to see the efforts of Big Data initiatives so we can get to the heart of prevention and intervention in ways that have not been possible on a grand scale before.

Sources:

Administration for Children & Families (2016). Technology used to tackle labor trafficking in supply chains. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/archive/blog/2016/05/technology-used-to-   tackle-labor-trafficking-in-supply-chains

Apple Inc. (2019). App Store Preview: Redlight Traffic. Retrieved from    https://apps.apple.com/us/app/redlight-traffic/id731406590

Apple Inc. (2019). App Store Preview: Sweat & Toil. Retrieved from          https://apps.apple.com/us/app/sweat-toil/id1018240593

Appriss Safety (2019). What is vine. Retrieved from https://apprisssafety.com/solutions/vine/

Break The Cycle (2014). Love is not abuse. Retrieved from https://www.techsafety.org/loveisnotabuseb

Contratados (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://contratados.org/es/content/preguntas-mas-frecuentes-     sobre-la-visa-j-1

Identity Theft Resource Center (2019). Identity theft help app from national nonprofit ITRC. Retrieved from https://www.idtheftcenter.org/itrcapp/

National Consumers League (2017). Technology in the fight against trafficking: Tracking criminals and helping victims. Retrieved from https://www.nclnet.org/trafficking_tech

Polaris Project (2019). National human trafficking hotline. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/get-                assistance/national-human-trafficking-hotline

Polaris Project (2019). Surviving with social media: How victims and survivors use social media to stay safe. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/blog/2019/02/28/surviving-social-media-how-             victims-and-survivors-use-social-media-stay-safe

Streetlight Chicago (2017). Streetlight Chicago. Retrieved from www.streetlightchicago.org

Technology & Human Trafficking (2015). Technology and labor trafficking in a network society. Retrieved from https://technologyandtrafficking.usc.edu/technology-labor-trafficking-network-society/

Tech Safety (2016). About tech safety. Retrieved from https://techsafetyapp.org/cell-phone-   safety/smartphones

TraffickCam (n.d.). About traffickcam. Retrieved from https://traffickcam.com/about

Truckers against Trafficking (2019). Did you know TAT has an app available for all mobile phones? Retrieved from https://truckersagainsttrafficking.org/app/

University of Toledo (2018). Study details link between social media and sex trafficking. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2018-10-link-social-media-sex-trafficking.html


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