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Monday, December 26, 2016

Crowdsourcing The End Of Human Trafficking

Child sex traffickers advertise their victims by taking photographs of the kids in hotel rooms. You can help rescue them.

Here are some fast facts:
  • We don't know exactly how many children are trafficked in the United States each year. A Department of Homeland Security fact sheet, citing the Department of Justice, estimates 100,000-300,000.
  • A 2015 survey of survivors of child sex trafficking found that 63% were advertised or sold using the Internet. (It was conducted by Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University, for Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's nonprofit, Thorn.)
  • The survey also found that the survivors were initially trafficked as young as age 5. The average age was 16.
  • Backpage was the most commonly used site for web-based trafficking of victims, followed by Craigslist and Facebook.
  • 50% of child victims are boys, according to research conducted by John Jay College (2008) and cited by Jodie Gummow for Alternet.
Part of the problem with shutting online child sex trafficking down is the language: Traffickers design coded language specifically to evade detection and prosecution. Gummow quotes Tina Frundt, a survivor herself, who assists the FBI in their efforts: 

"Most providers are unfamiliar with the lingo and code words used by pimps and buyers so we’re missing it.”

Tina's ordeal began when her trafficker, nearly 30 years old, lured her in at the age of 13. He "groomed" her by listening to her troubles with seemingly endless patience, building up her trust, until she agreed to travel with him to another state. 

Once there, he and his friends gang-raped her, and she lost her freedom. She had a daily quota to meet, and was raped by up to 18 customers daily to achieve it. Any hope of escape was dashed by regular beatings, including with a baseball bat, having the door slammed on her fingers, and getting burned by cigarettes. She had little hope:

"Not only was I shocked, I was scared. What would happen to me if I did try to leave, and who would believe me if I told them what was going on?"

Eventually Tina was rescued, but that did not come without its cost. She was thrown into juvenile detention--as though she were the criminal and not the victim. 

Reading such stories, one can easily fall into despair at the plight of these children. We feel helpless--there are so many of them--what can we do? 

But it is possible to help, particularly during this holiday season, when many of us are traveling. Just by taking a couple of photos of your hotel room, you can help law enforcement to identify hotels where children are being held.

Making a difference is easy:
1.    Snap 4 photos of your hotel room (no faces, please)
2.    Navigate to https://traffickcam.com/ on your web browser
3.    Email your photos to yourself
4.    Input the name of the hotel you stayed at
5.    Click the camera icon to upload your photos

Of course, nowadays, people are suspicious of initiatives like this. You're probably thinking, "Who is TraffickCam and where are these photos going?" 

According to the Washington Post, the app was developed by Washington University researchers in association with The Exchange Initiative, which offers "resources, information and networking solutions to combat sex trafficking in the United States." EI was formed by Nix Conference & Meeting Management "to empower individuals and organizations with real resources to help end sex trafficking." Here is more information about its leadership.

I visited TheCode.org, a travel industry initiative dedicated to ending child sex tourism, and indeed Nix Conference & Meeting Management is listed as a "top member." Here is a link to their Board of Directors, as well as the entire list of top members for 2015.

There's been positive media coverage by TheNextWebTechCrunch, and more.

The app is still in its early stages, and while "success stories" are not yet available, there is both national and international interest in using this simple yet powerful app.

So this looks like the real deal. And you can make a difference.

Because even in today's polarized world, all of us can agree that one victim of this horrendous crime is one victim too many.
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All opinions my own. Thank you to Joey Seich for making me aware of this app.