By now, you’ve likely heard the startling statistics about how prevalent the $32 billion industry of human trafficking is. What you may not have heard is how close to home it hits. According to 2013 data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Texas ranks No. 2 for reported human trafficking, behind California. This criminal industry is sweeping the world, and it’s thriving in our own backyard.
Equally as disheartening, despite the number of victims that seem to increase year over year, there still doesn’t seem to be much “noise” about it. So this raises the question, “What are we doing about human trafficking?”
Police reports and studies show that the reason why it’s been so hard to bust this illegal industry is because it uses technology to remain incognito.
Police reports and studies show that the reason why it’s been so hard to bust this illegal industry is because it uses technology to remain incognito. With online ads, social media and video chat, these criminal masterminds are falling completely under the radar. So how do we fight it?
We beat them at their own game.
There’s a technology confluence of human trafficking combaters. The use of technologies like big data, mapping, and advanced analytics is being used to further anti-trafficking goals in places like Texas. Here are a few that are particularly note-worthy.
Thorn Innovation Lab
Thorn is an organization that leverages the digital footprint of child abuse to find victims faster and stop potential future abuse. In November of 2014, Thorn announced the Thorn Innovation Lab, which will open in San Francisco, California. The Lab will serve as a physical “think tank” for a team of engineers and data scientists to research technologies and build innovative technology solutions to end human trafficking. The Lab has partnered with Sabre, along with other tech industry giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Expedia, IAC, Twitter, Amazon Web Services and Pinterest. The organization also has other tech products that are stopping human trafficking in its tracks like Spotlight, a web-based tool that takes data from escort ads posted online and turns it into an asset for law enforcement.
Big data is likely the most widely recognized weapon in the fight against the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Many of the tech solutions combatting human trafficking are backed by high-performing databases. The arguably intrusive trail of data breadcrumbs telling stories of each person’s activities is the core of what’s going to end modern-day slavery.
When criminals are using smartphones and bitcoins (digital currency) to remain hidden, the work done to stop them has to be twice as tech-savvy.
Law enforcement benefits from a constant flow of big data that reveals suspicious behavior patterns. When criminals are using smartphones and bitcoins (digital currency) to remain hidden, the work done to stop them has to be twice as tech-savvy.
An organization that uses technology to eradicate modern-day slavery is Polaris and the software in use, Palantir. On the front end, Palantir is a hotline that helps victims quickly access the resources and help they need, but the data captured through the tool on the backend enables Polaris to discover connections between cases and identify global trafficking patterns, offenders and entire network operations.
Thanks to these apps, anyone with a smartphone can join the fight against human trafficking. With 64 percent of North American adults now owning a smartphone, and an expected growth of 24 percent by 2020, the potential impact mobile apps could make on this crime is tremendous.
- CrimePush – Allows victims of human trafficking to upload evidence like photos, audio files, or text, as well as report crimes as they happen.
- Ban Human Trafficking – Uses a game to educate youth about trafficking and instructs them on how to recognize potentially dangerous situations. It also gives them an opportunity to report human trafficking when they encounter it. This is especially important considering the average age of victims is as young as 11 to 14 and human traffickers benefit from their victims’ lack of knowledge about the crime. Easily accessible and digestible education is key to undermining that advantage.
- Prevent Human Trafficking – Collects data and builds a database of prior cases to understand where human trafficking has occurred in order to predict where it is likely to occur in the future. This helps NGOs (non-governmental associations) and law enforcements focus their resources on particular geographic areas, limit duplication of efforts and understand patterns to develop real-time response capabilities.
- Redlight Traffic – Enables people to safely report suspicious activity to authorities. It’s also collecting data to help authorities map problem areas and identify patterns.
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