By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Human trafficking continues to be a major problem in the United States and around the world, so it is important to utilize current technology to combat it. Taking a proactive approach and applying technology to combat cases of human trafficking can increase the identification and protection of victims and result in more prosecution of those responsible for human trafficking.
An organization called Thorn currently leverages the power of technology to combat child sex trafficking. In particular, Thorn developed a Child Finder Service that uses machine learning to identify possible matches between the faces of missing children among young children being advertised for sex online.
The Threat of the Dark Web and Human Trafficking
The dark web is a network of untraceable online activity and websites on the internet. It is a well-known source of human trafficking advertisements.
INTERPOL conducted an investigation and found that a notorious trafficking ring called the Black Death Group was operating on the dark web to sell sex slaves and auction girls as young as 15 years old. The group was responsible for selling young girls based on their age, hair color and other characteristics. It also claimed that the abductors “do not sell girls that are terminally ill, pregnant, have STDs or are young mothers.”
The organization also said that they could “transport their victims globally” and were willing to kidnap a specific target for one’s needs. Revelations of this organization’s existence reflect the need for law enforcement to use cutting-edge technology to infiltrate the dark web and prevent future victims. The challenge for law enforcement regarding the dark web is that it relies on anonymizing technology and cryptocurrency to mask illicit transactions.
In June 2020, the National Institute of Justice sponsored a workshop involving experts who identified law enforcement’s key dark web challenges and opportunities. The workshop reflected the need for training officers in detecting relevant dark web evidence, information sharing among agencies, and new forensic standards. Through technology, the workshop found that law enforcement is capable of seizures that can compromise entire illicit markets with buyers’ and sellers’ information made no longer anonymous.
A Mobile App to Locate Human Trafficking Victims and Catch Suspects
Another example of how technology can be used to combat human trafficking is in Florida, which has one of the highest rates on human trafficking in the United States. The Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force recently announced that they are launching a mobile tip app, Tampa Bay Human Trafficking TF, to help locate victims and assist in catching suspects.
Previously, many of the cases interdicted by the Task Force involved a detective responding to an online advertisement. Detectives now hope that the app will give victims an easy way to reach out for help, and it is available for most smartphones.
The app’s users can submit tips about possible sightings of human trafficking and add a location and photograph. In addition, the app enables victims or potential tipsters to have access to a detective 24 hours a day, which is a significant advancement in access to real-time help through technology.
A Global Competition to Foster the Development of Anti-Trafficking Technology Tools
The use of technology to combat human trafficking is garnering worldwide attention. In September 2020, a global competition was held to develop tools that use technology and data analysis to address human trafficking and increase prosecutions.
The event was organized by IBM and a Colombian organization involving 136 people from 13 counties. They are working around the clock to develop the technology to identify tracking patterns, locate hotspots, and track criminal organizations that exploit people through human trafficking.
The best way to combat human trafficking is to take a proactive approach that identifies victims in real time and increases prosecutions of traffickers. Ultimately, technology will play a key role in reducing human trafficking.