AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Technology Can Be a Useful Tool for Preventing Human Trafficking

By Novadean Watson-Williams
Department Chair, Information Technology Management, Information Technology and Computer Technology

and Dr. Daniela Messina
Faculty Member, Biology and Chemistry Programs, School of STEM

Does slavery exist today? Regrettably, it does in the form of human trafficking.

Additionally, human trafficking activities are becoming more prevalent through technology. For instance, the internet’s Dark Web, social media sites, cryptocurrency, mobile devices and apps are all advancing human trafficking activities by making it easier for human traffickers to contact willing buyers for victims.

For instance, WXYZ Detroit notes that both familiar and lesser-known apps such as Facebook Messenger and dating app Bumble have been used by human trafficking predators. Similarly, the nonprofit Polaris Project says that there has been a 125% increase in human trafficking victim recruitment via Facebook and a 95% increase via Instagram.

BBC News Arabic says that in Kuwait, the 4Sale app and Instagram are used in slave markets for the illegal buying and selling of domestic workers. Newer tech gadgets such as Apple Air Tags have raised concerns regarding their potential use for nefarious tracking.

How Are Human Trafficking Victims Located by Buyers?

According to the Association of Internet Research Specialists (AOFIRS), the internet includes the typically searchable and indexed “Surface Web” and the “Deep Web,” which is not indexed or searchable by public search engines like Google or Bing. Part of the Deep Web includes the “Dark Web” (aka DarkNet), whose network consists exclusively of .onion websites that can only be accessed by a specialized browser such as Tor, Brave or Orfox.

Victims are commonly marketed on these types of .onion websites. But even on the Surface Web, websites such as Skip the Games and MegaPersonals, the primary websites used for sex trafficking, can be found.

Related link: Understanding How Sex Trafficking Works Can Help Prevent It

How Are Victims Bought?

Cryptocurrency is a common method of payment used by human trafficking sellers and buyers. According to Guidehouse expert Balki Aydin, “Traffickers use cryptocurrencies to purchase advertisements and by sex buyers to purchase premium memberships on review board websites. Some members of the cryptocurrency community are specifically catering to traffickers who post advertisements.”

What Is Human Trafficking?

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. The traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.”

There are various misconceptions surrounding human trafficking, including the myth that human trafficking victims are taken by force. In reality, most predators look for and exploit a victim’s vulnerabilities and seek to create a personal bond and trust with them.

Organ trafficking is also a form of human trafficking. In their report, “Transnational Crime and the Developing World,” Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates the value of organ trafficking to be $840 million to $1.7 billion (US$) per year, predominantly from the “sale” of organs such as kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, and pancreases.

These “donated” organs come from disproportionately marginalized populations – the poor, uneducated, physically or financially desperate, or uninformed. There are both willing and unwilling participants.

The GFI also notes that migrants and refugees may be coerced to sell their organs to cover funding for travel costs. The buyers or recipients are desperate for a different reason; they need the organ for transplantation to solve a medical crisis.

Related link: Attacking International Human Trafficking during the Pandemic

Technology Can Be Used as a Weapon Against Human Trafficking

Technology may be expanding the horrific activities of human trafficking, but it is also a helpful way to prevent it. Some of the technological tools used to combat human trafficking include:

  • Using mobile apps to locate sex trafficking victims
  • Using satellite imagery to find fishing vessels with cargos of forced labor victims
  • Using web-based data extraction software, such as the University of Southern California’s Domain Insight Graph (DIG) system, which crawls the web to help investigators find details about human trafficking victims, summarizes that information, and continues to monitor human trafficking websites for changes and updates 

Governments are moving to use more technology to stop human traffickers. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently mentioned that “experts from around 100 countries met online and in Vienna, Austria to discuss strategies to combat this phenomenon and make the best use of technology to prevent human trafficking and investigate cases of this crime.”

There have also been some additional efforts to combat human trafficking:

Immediate Action against Human Trafficking Is Vital

Unfortunately, more than 40 million people globally are coerced, exploited and/or born into modern slavery today. Something must be done – action is needed from all sides now!

Individuals of all ages should be educated on human trafficking, and in-person and online dangers should be explained to anyone using the internet. Children and teens, who are often the most vulnerable victims, especially need to know how to protect themselves from predators.

In addition, there should be a review of the laws to increase the support for human trafficking victims and more predators should be prosecuted. The U.S. Department of State has a helpful list of additional actions that can be taken.

Furthermore, you may volunteer for organizations such as the Coalition Against Human Trafficking to help defeat human traffickers. Pay attention to the websites you visit and the information you share via technology, so that you don’t become the victim of a predator or scam artist.

As Nelson Mandela said, “It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all, especially the poor, vulnerable and marginalised.”

About the Authors

Dr. Daniela Messina is an Associate Professor and full-time faculty member with the Natural Sciences Program. In a previous capacity, she has served a seven-year term as a Faculty Director for other School of STEM programs such as Information Technology, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, and Environmental Science. Additionally, Dr. Messina has experience in the dental industry as well as direct patient care experience in integrative healthcare settings. She holds a B.A. in Multidisciplinary Studies from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a Doctor of Chiropractic from New York Chiropractic College, and an M.S. in Acupuncture from New York Chiropractic College/Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture.

Previous publications include the blog article “Citizen Science: The Water Testing and Awareness Project,” a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Science and Children journal article, “Marvelous metals matter! (A STEAM lesson for fifth graders incorporates the Engineering Design Process), and the Society of Wetland Ecologists (SWS) Twitter Symposium, “Building Environmental Science Data Collection and Analysis into the Online Curriculum: Understanding Water Quality.”

Dr. Novadean Watson-Williams is currently the Chair for the undergraduate programs in Information Technology Management and Computer Technology and the graduate program in Information Technology. She serves an aggressively growing department and has over 20 years of experience in the information technology field. Dr. Watson-Williams holds an A.A. in Computer Studies and a B.S. in information systems management from the University of Maryland University College, a B.S. in social science education from the University of South Florida, an M.A. in General Counseling from Louisiana Tech University, and a D.B.A. in information systems from Argosy University. 

Previously, she published several blog articles on topics such as “Countering Cybersecurity Attacks through Accountability,” “Creating a Personal Brand through Using the Internet,” “Leadership Using Effective Nonverbal Communication,” and “Inspiring Self-Improvement through Technology Education, Collective Intelligence and Soft Skills.” She has also co-published several other articles, including “RFID with Real Implications,” “Artificial Intelligence in Information Security” and “Evolution of Information Security.”

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