The majority of human trafficking victims are children and women between the ages of 18 and 24 with 43% of them being sold into the sex trade. The masterminds of these criminal operations gross approximately $32 billion per year.
Traditional detective work is not conducive to this level of crime. Luckily tools such as datamining, mapping and computational linguistics are being used by governments, NGOs and the like to further anti-trafficking goals.
Historically, technology has been used by traffickers to their advantage. Traffickers use social media and online advertisements to lure and recruit vulnerable populations into their trafficking rings. The trafficker will then turn around to use media as a vessel to sell their victims online.
Fortunately, over the past decade there have been a few organizations coming to the forefront, using technology to fight trafficking rather than aid it. Fighting fire with fire. Thorn, The Polaris Project and Microsoft’s PhotoDNA are all doing great work to fight trafficking online.
Thorn came into being into being in 2009 through its creators Ashton Kutcher and his ex-wife Demi Moore. The organization developed the spotlight tool, a tool specializing in fighting trafficking of juveniles. This tool is available to law enforcement, allowing officers to gather data from online sex advertisements. The tool allows officers to build a data archive of records from escort ads. It also uses machine learning to analyze escort data and proactively identify suspicious ads. Studies show a 43% reduction in investigation time. Thorn has various corporate partners to aid in their pursuit including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.
The Polaris Project
National Human Trafficking Hotline was developed by Polaris. This is a toll-free hotline used to assist victims 7 days a week in over 200 languages. The hotline can be accessed via email and has an online tip option. Thus far, Polaris has received over 72,000 calls and has identified over 8,000 victims.
The Polaris Project has been a heavy-hitter in combating human trafficking in North America. The organization, along with Thorn, partnered with SalesForce to develop the National Human Trafficking Hotline textline. Victims can text “BeFree” for a discreet and time efficient way to identify themselves to authorities.
This software aids in identifying children who are sexually exploited online. The technology works by computing a unique code that represents the image. It then converts the image into black and white, breaks it down into a grid and can analyze the image based on intensity of gradient.
The technology was then donated to Project Vic. Project Vic works to streamline investigative workflows and narrows the focus of child pornography law enforcement by filtering the material found on offenders’ computers. The project “fingerprints” photos to be uniquely identified. Using robust data sets, the project can uniquely identify photos making it easier to decipher from the children who have and who haven’t been found.
With trafficking being such a vast organized crime, law enforcement needs all the help it can get to work toward freeing those in slavery. Organizations such as Thorn, The Polaris Project and Mircosoft are utilizing their technology expertise to aid in the fight against trafficking.